Despite advances in recent therapeutic approaches including targeted therapies, multiple myeloma (MM) remains still incurable necessitating the development of novel treatment strategies. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNA molecules that regulate post-transcriptional gene expression and play a critical role in tumor pathogenesis. Tumor suppressor miRNAs are generally down-regulated in cancer cells compared to their normal counterpart, and their enforced expression indeed represents a promising strategy for cancer treatment. In this study, we sought to characterize the role of miR-29a as a tumor suppressor as well as evaluated its therapeutic potential in MM.

miR-29a expression levels were found down-regulated in a panel of 5 MM cell lines, 6 newly diagnosed MM patient samples compared to its expression in normal hematopoietic cells collected from 10 normal healthy individuals suggesting that high expression of miR-29a might be involved in MM pathogenesis. We further assessed the functional significance of miR-29a by both gain- and loss-of-function studies. A significant decrease in cell viability (22-32%, p<0.05), along with induction of apoptosis (30-35%, p<0.05) was observed at 48 hrs in MM cell lines, MM.1S and 8226 transfected with miR-29a compared to cells transfected with scrambled miRNA. In contrast, cell lines transfected with miR-29a antagonist prevented the loss of viability in such cells indicating the specificity of miR-29a. At the molecular level, we have identified c-Myc, an important oncogenic transcription factor known to stimulate MM cell proliferation, as a target of miR-29a. Binding site of miR-29a was first identified by computer algorithm and further confirmed by the use of a 3’UTR of c-Myc reporter (luciferase renilla/firefly) constructs containing, miR-29a target site. Moreover, treatment with PRIMA-Met, a small molecule anti-tumor agent in phase I/II clinical trials, significantly increased the expression of miR-29a (2 to 6-fold) and decreased expression of c-Myc in MM cell lines and primay MM patient samples suggesting an important role of miR-29a in inhibiting proliferation of MM cells. On the other hand, overexpression of c-Myc in 8226 and MM.1S cells at least partially reverted the functional effect of miR-29a or PRIMA-1Metsuggesting a specific role of c-Myc in mediating its anti-proliferative activity.

To examine therapeutic potential of our studies, we took advantage of novel lipid based delivery method of miRNA. Intratumor delivery of the miR-29a by intraperitoneal injection route against MM xenografts in SCID mice resulted in a significant inhibition of tumor growth (~60%) at 12 days of treatment and prolongation of survival (median survival increased from 22 days to 35 days, p<0.038) compared to the mice receiving scrambled miRNA. Retrieved tumors from treated mice showed efficient increase in miR-29a (5.5-fold, p=0.025), and decrease in c-Myc protein as well as reduced expression of Ki67 and increase of Tunel expression. Similar phenomenon was observed by systematic delivery of miR-29a (by intraveneous injection) in mice with no significant side effects or toxicity in mice.

Our study reveals an important role of miR-29a as a tumor suppressor in mediating anti-tumor activities in MM cells by targeting c-Myc. Our findings provide a proof-of-principle that formulated synthetic miR-29a exerts therapeutic activity in preclinical models, and support a framework for development of miR-29a based treatment strategies in MM patients.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.