Multiple myeloma (MM) is an incurable and fatal neoplasm characterized by the accumulation of clonal plasma cells (PC) that results in significant end organ and tissue damage. MM is preceded by either of two premalignant asymptomatic stages, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma (SMM), both of which are identified by the presence of clonally expanded abnormal PC populations. While MGUS and SMM patients' abnormal PC populations may remain stable for years, both have a life-long significantly increased risk of progressing to MM (1% and 10% per year, respectively). For this reason, a better understanding of the molecular events prompting malignant progression and increased accuracy in identifying those patients that have begun to transition to MM is urgently needed. In this study, we identified a novel MM marker, CD147 (also known as extracellular matrix metalloproteinase inducer (MMP), or EMMPRIN), that is not only over-expressed on MM PCs as compared to its premalignant counterparts, but whose increased expression correlates with the level of abnormal PC proliferation. To our knowledge, we are the first to demonstrate a role for CD147 in MM. CD147 has been shown by others to display a variety of activities and those with potential relevance to MM include stimulation of increased MMP production and angiogenesis, and playing a critical role in glycolysis via facilitation of excess cellular lactate transport. Our initial experiments revealed that MM PCs overexpress CD147 mRNA relative to MGUS PCs. Flow cytometric analysis corroborated these data and demonstrated variable expression of CD147 across the disease continuum ranging from no expression to bimodal or uniform expression. Indeed, there was a significant difference between CD147 expression on MGUS and SMM PCs compared to that on MM PCs (p=0.02 and 0.005, respectively). We next determined whether CD147 had a signaling role in these cells. Using the natural CD147 ligand, cyclophilin B (CypB), we showed that addition of CypB to either human MM cell lines (HMCLs) or CD138+ patient PCs resulted in increased PC proliferation as measured by [3H]-thymidine incorporation. In a complementary manner, addition of CD147 antibodies significantly inhibited proliferation without an effect on cell viability. By western blot analysis we further demonstrated that CypB-mediated CD147 activation leads to MAPK phosphorylation. Next, we isolated CD147+ and CD147- MM cells from patients whose tumor cells bimodally expressed this marker and assessed the response of each subset to IL-6 and CypB. The CD147+ subset was almost solely responsible for the proliferative response in all cases examined. In addition, we cultured bone marrow mononuclear cells from CD147 bimodally expressing MM patients overnight with bromodeoxyuridine before performing cell cycle analysis on the CD147+ and CD147- MM PC populations. Remarkably, the CD147+ PCs were greatly enriched for cells in the S and G2/M phases of the cell cycle, whereas the CD147- PCs resided almost entirely in the G0/G1 phase. In the final set of experiments, we employed siRNA knockdown strategies using HMCLs to definitively test the role of CD147 in MM cell proliferation. Indeed, IL-6 induced proliferation was significantly compromised following CD147 down regulation, which was not attributed to increased apoptosis. However, IL-6 mediated phosphorylation of MAPK remained robust suggesting that the IL-6 signaling pathway overall was not compromised in these cells. Finally, cell cycle analysis demonstrated that CD147 down regulation resulted in a significant increase in the number of cells in the G0/G1 phase of the cell cycle and a decrease in the number of cells in the G2/M phase of the cell cycle, as compared to cells transfected with control siRNA. In conclusion, our data suggest that the CD147 molecule plays a critical role in the biology of malignant MM PCs, particularly as it concerns MM cell proliferation, and may thus serve as a useful and attractive target for reducing the proliferative compartment of this disease. Ongoing studies are investigating additional roles for MM cell CD147 expression, e.g., its role in MMP induction in the tumor microenviroment.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.