Multiple myeloma (MM) is an incurable neoplasia of terminally differentiated plasma cells in the bone marrow. Essential interactions of MM cells with host bone marrow stromal cells (BMSC) induce growth factors essential for MM progression and pathogenesis, as well as induce an immunosuppressive environment that inhibits endogenous and therapeutically-induced immune responses against the MM cells. However, despite their importance, little is known about the identity of these BMSC cells or the molecular basis of their interaction with myeloma cells. A potential MM surface protein that could be involved in these interactions is CD28, based on its known pro-survival role in T cells. Clinical studies have shown that expression of CD28 in multiple myeloma highly correlates (p=0.006) with myeloma disease progression. Moreover, CD28+ MM cells invariably express the CD28 ligand CD86. A survival role for MM-CD28 might involve interactions with cellular partners that express the B7 (CD80/CD86) ligands. Potential candidates would include CD86+ myeloma cells themselves or B7+ dendritic cells (DC) that are known to be closely associated with myeloma cells in the patient bone marrow. When myeloma-myeloma interactions were disrupted by using the high affinity CD80/CD86 blocker CTLA4Ig (Abatacept®), increased sensitivity to arsenic trioxide (ATO) and melphalan (MEL) was observed in all the three MM cell lines U266, RPMI8226 and MM1S. For U266 viability was 93% in media alone, 84% with CTLA4Ig (100 μg/ml) alone, 86% with 2 μM ATO alone and was significantly reduced to 36% with CTLA4Ig + ATO. Similar drops in viability were observed with 25 μM MEL in combination with CTLA4Ig (33% as opposed to 71–74 % with CTLA4Ig or MEL alone). Our data suggests that this does not involve the downregulation of anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2, Bcl-xL or Mcl-1, commonly associated with drug resistance in myeloma. In the second part of the study, we demonstrate that myeloma cell lines or primary CD138+ myeloma cells can enhance via direct contact the ability of human monocyte derived immature DC to produce the immunosuppressive tryptophan depleting enzyme indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase (IDO, as estimated by kynurenine (Kyn) (a tryptophan catabolite) levels in the supernatant) and also the pro-plasma cell survival cytokine IL-6. In co-cultures of IFNg treated immature DCs with either MM cell lines or with primary CD138+ myeloma cells from patient BM aspirates, the activity of IDO was enhanced ~ 2–8 fold (81 mM kyn with U266 and 20–43mM with primary cells) over that observed in control IFNg-treated DCs (9.7 mM Kyn). Western analysis also demonstrated increased IDO expression relative to IFNg activated DC controls. Blocking MM-CD28 with (Fab)2 fragments of anti-hCD28 mAb 9.3 downregulated IDO activity (9.3 mM) close to that of control, demonstrating the involvement of MM-CD28 in these interactions. We also demonstrated a significant up-regulation of the pro-myeloma survival cytokine IL-6 when immature DCs were co-cultured with CD28+ MM1S (90–300 pg/ml), a 4–9 fold increase over that of DC only control (25 – 35 pg/ml). This was further enhanced when immature DCs cultured with IL-10 (+ GM-CSF + IL-4) was used in co-cultures with MM-1S (800 – 1300 pg/ml), or with primary CD138+ myeloma cells from patient bone marrow aspirates (128–1142 pg/ml). In conclusion, our data demonstrates that blocking myeloma-CD28 - myeloma-CD86 “autocrine” interaction can enhance drug cytotoxicity, while interactions with DCs produce the essential growth cytokines IL-6 and immunosuppressive enzyme IDO with potential implications in MM survival and immune escape. Use of clinically approved agents (e.g. Abatacept®) to block myeloma-CD28 binding to its B7 ligands (increase chemotherapeutic efficacy), 1-MT to inhibit IDO and targeting DCs in the microenvironment to disrupt the tumor microenvironment could be viable therapeutic strategies for the future treatment of multiple myeloma.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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