Multiple myeloma (MM) cell adhesion to fibronectin (FN), mediated via VLA-4 and VLA-5, has been shown to induce resistance to several chemotherapeutic drugs. Disruption of MM cell adhesion to FN and other marrow microenvironment elements might therefore enhance the effects of therapy. We now present the first evidence that Eph-ephrin signaling may be exploited to inhibit MM cell binding to fibronectin. Ephs are transmembrane tyrosine kinases and ephrins are their cell-surface ligands. There are two classes of Ephs and ephrins, A and B. Both Ephs and ephrins can transduce repulsive signals that cause interacting cells to lose contact with each other and with extracellular matrix. We are not aware of any previous systematic study of Eph and ephrin expression or function in MM cells. We have found MM cell lines H929, U266, and RPMI 8226 express members of the A classes of both Ephs and ephrins, but not the B classes. First, we demonstrated ligation with commercially available anti-ephrin A3 antibody was followed by ephrin capping and shedding from the cell surface. We next explored whether ephrin ligation affects MM cell adhesiveness in culture. Whereas H929, U266, and RPMI 8226 cells adhered rapidly to fibronectin-coated plastic surfaces, all three cell lines failed completely to adhere to a mixed coating of FN and rabbit anti-ephrin A3 antibody for a period of 2 hrs. This effect was not seen with FN + normal rabbit Ig. This suggests binding of ephrin A3 (or another cross-reacting A-class ephrin) by solid-state antibody triggers intracellular signals that interfere with initial steps of integrin-mediated adhesion. After 2 hr, spontaneous partial recovery of adhesion occurred, reaching a plateau of approximately 30% of control values by 24 hr. We postulate this recovery occurs via clipping of the extracellular ephrin domain by transmembrane metalloproteases, since recovery of FN adhesion was partially prevented by the metalloprotease inhibitor GM6001 (25 uM). Also consistent with this theory, we found in a separate experiment that GM6001 reduced the shedding of cross-linked A-class ephrins from MM cell lines. In summary, we have demonstrated that manipulation of EPH-ephrin signaling can impair MM-cell adhesion to FN, and that this effect is enhanced by simultaneous inhibition of metalloprotease activity. We are currently studying the effect of A-class ephrin ligation on adhesion-mediated drug resistance in MM cell lines. We also intend to evaluate EPH-ephrin expression in marrow specimens from patients with MM.