The transcription factor X-box binding protein-1 (XBP-1) plays critical roles in the unfolded protein response (UPR), the differentiation of plasma cells, and the regulation of growth factor signaling pathways. XBP-1 is subject to regulation by alternative RNA processing producing XBP-1-spliced (S) and -unspliced (U) mRNAs encoding proteins with identical DNA-binding and bZIP domains yet distinct C-terminal transactivation domains. The weaker transactivation potential of XBP-1(U) has prompted speculation that it may influence XBP-1(S) activity as a transdominant mutant. While elevated XBP-1 expression has been reported in transformed cells, the relative ratios of these XBP-1 isoforms and associated physiological relevance in cancer are uncertain. Here, we assessed the differential impact of enforced XBP-1(S) versus XBP-1(U) transgene expression in the B cell lineage. Both transgenes elicited early onset antibody-dependent autoimmune disease characterized by elevated levels of serum immunoglobulin (Ig) and IL-6 production, increased numbers of marginal zone and mature follicular B cells in the spleen, and expanded mature B cell populations in the bone marrow. Notably, aged XBP-1(S) mice developed clonal plasma cell expansions, culminating in the human-equivalent of Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS) or Multiple Myeloma (MM). Conversely, XBP-1(U) mice develop multi-organ lymphoplasmacytic infiltrates and, with advancing age, succumb to neoplasms resembling human Lymphoplasmacytic Lymphoma/Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia (LPL/WM). These unanticipated genetic observations in the mouse were translated to human disease with documentation of elevated levels of XBP-1(S) in MM and XBP-1(U) in LPL/WM. Together, these results indicate that imbalances in XBP-1(S) and XBP-1(U) alters B cell lineage homeostasis and can drive two distinct types of lymphoplasmacytic neoplasms in vivo. The findings of this study, together with the known capacity of XBP-1 to regulate various cancer-relevant growth factor signaling pathways, predicts that epigenetic dysregulation of alternate XBP-1 RNA processing can promote age-associated B cell malignancies in humans.

Author notes

Corresponding author