Background: Waldenstršms macroglobulinemia (WM) is an indolent B-lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, which is highly sensitive to 20S proteasome inhibitors such as bortezomib. However, clinical resistance to the drug can be observed early at onset of therapy (primary or inherent resistance) or develop over time, through repeated exposure to the drug (acquired resistance). Although prior investigations into the biological mechanisms associated with bortezomib resistance (BR) have identified aberrations at the genomic (PSMB5 mutation) and transcriptional level (loss of XPB-1), there is limited data on the epigenetic abnormalities that support resistance to 20S proteasome inhibition. With this in mind, we conducted a comprehensive methylation and mRNA expression analysis in WM cells focusing on the molecular patterns that characterize inherent BR (iBR) as well as acquired BR (aBR).

Materials and Methods: Bortezomib sensitive (BS) human WM cell lines, BCWM.1 and MWCL-1, the iBR WM cell line RPCI-WM1 (developed from a bortezomib-refractory WM patient) as well as aBR subclones (BCWM.1/BR, MWCL-1/BR) were used in the study. Methylation status of WM cells was profiled by Illumina Infinium 450k methylation array. Methylation IDAT files were background subtracted using GenomeStudio v1.9. Beta mixture quantile dilation (BMIQ) method in R watermelon package was used to adjust type II probes into distribution characteristic of type I probes. For each gene, probes were partitioned into 6 regions using R IMA package and the ones belonging to the same region were averaged, including transcription start sites (TSS; both 200 bp and 1500 bp upstream), 5' untranslated region (UTR), and 3'UTR, the first exon, and genebody. Gene regions showing a significant adjusted p-value and a beta difference of >0.1 or <-0.1 were selected for differential hypermethylation and hypomethylation, respectively. Correlation with gene expression was conducted only on genes showing >1.5 fold change in expression. Overview of methodology is shown in Figure 1.

Results: We first assessed the differential methylation pattern (TSS, 200bp upstream of gene body) of bortezomib-sensitive (BS, BCWM.1, IC50 6nM) and iBR cells, (RPCI-WM1). A total of 3,801 hypermethylated and 1,865 hypomethylated DNA regions were observed in iBR cells relative to BS cells (Figure 2A). In iBR cells, a negative correlation between hypermethylated DNA and corresponding gene expression was found in 1,039 genes (Spearman r = -0.12) (Figure 2B). In parallel, we compared the methylation pattern (TSS 200bp) of BS WM cells (BCWM.1 and MWCL-1) with their aBR derivatives, which display ~20 – 50 fold resistance to bortezomib. aBR subclones showed differential hypermethylation of 1,521 DNA regions and hypomethylation of 651 genomic regions relative to BS WM cells. These findings were not unexpected as aBR cell lines, being derivatives of BS WM cells, are clonally related to the former, whereas iBR cells are derived from a different clone. Meta-analysis of iBR and aBR followed by pathway enrichment (NextBio, Illumina Inc), revealed a significant clustering of commonly hypermethylated genes within the Validated Transcriptional Targets of TP63 isoforms Canonical Pathway (p<1.9-E5, Figure 2C) and the CEBPA binding site Geneset 2 (p<8.2-E9, Figure 2D); pathways whose genes are actively involved in suppression of cell growth and differentiation. Further validation and functional relevance of candidate gene targets from this analysis, which are relevant to WM pathobiology, are currently being investigated.

Conclusion: This is the first study to examine and correlate the global methylation and gene expression profiles in WM tumor cells that are inherently wired to resist 20S proteasome inhibition as well as tumor cells, which have acquired resistance through continuous exposure to bortezomib. Although considerable differences were observed in the methylation profiles of WM cells displaying inherent vs. acquired resistance, a number of common genes emerged and pointed towards transcriptional repressors, whose inactivation through methylation has been linked to other cancers. Altogether, these findings uncover cellular systems in WM cells, which are affected by DNA methylation, subsequent mRNA suppression and which may be associated as a whole with both inherent and acquired forms of bortezomib resistance.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.