Introduction: A plasma cell malignancy called multiple myeloma (MM) is an incurable cancer in which a majority of patients with refractory disease become resistant to therapy. The introduction of carfilzomib, a proteasome inhibitor, significantly improved the clinical outcome of the MM treatment. However, MM patients develop resistance to carfilzomib and relapse. In this study, we investigated the role of hypoxia and P-gp in the carfilzomib-resistance in MM cells in vitro and in vivo, and its therapeutic translational potential using a HIF inhibitor, PX-478.

Methods: In vitro, MM cell lines were treated with carfilzomib under normoxic (21% O2) or hypoxic (1% O2) conditions and cell survival was analyzed by MTT assay. The activity of P-gp was assessed by testing the efflux of a known P-gp substrate, RhodamineB (RhoB), in the hypoxic and normoxic conditions by measuring the intracellular RhoB content using flow cytometry. Moreover, we have tested the effect of HIF inhibition using PX-478 on the P-gp activity as well as the response to carfilzomib in hypoxic and normoxic cells.

In vivo, we tested the effect of HIF inhibition on tumor initiation, where MM1s-Luc-GFP cells were injected intravenously (IV) into SCID mice, which were treated instantaneously with PX-478 (10mg/kg) three times a week. Furthermore, we tested the effect of PX-478 on MM tumor response to carfilzomib (measuring tumor size and mice survival). MM1s-Luc-GFP cells were injected IV into SCID mice, tumors grew for 3 weeks and the mice were then randomly divided into 4 groups treated with (1) vehicle (Captisol), (2) PX-478 (10mg/kg) alone, (3) carfilzomib (5mg/kg) alone, or (4) a combination of PX-478 (10mg/kg) and carfilzomib (5mg/kg). PX-478 or vehicle were administered by oral gavage three times a week (day 1, day 3, day 5), while vehicle and carfilzomib were injected IV twice a week (day 4 and day 5). Tumor size was imaged using bioluminescence imaging (BLI) and mice survival was followed for 70 days.

Results: In vitro, we found that hypoxia induced resistance to carfilzomib in five MM cell lines. Moreover, hypoxia also increased activity of P-gp by causing decreased intracellular RhoB content in hypoxic MM cells. The HIF inhibitor, PX-478, as well as the P-gp inhibitor, tariquidar, reversed the activation of P-gp in hypoxic cells, while the combination of PX-478 and tariquidar did not induce further inhibition of P-gp activity. Furthermore, the combination of PX-478 or tariquidar with carfilzomib reversed the hypoxia-induced resistance in MM. However, tariquidar and other P-gp inhibitors have shown low selectivity and high toxicity in clinical trials; therefore, for our in vivo experiments we chose to inhibit HIF in order to reverse the hypoxia-induced P-gp-mediated resistance to carfilzomib in MM cells.

In vivo, in the MM tumor-initiation model, our study revealed that the HIF inhibitor, PX-478, significantly delayed the tumor progression and extended survival in which all control mice died between 42-52 days, while the experiment was stopped at 70 days, with all PX-478-treated mice still alive.

In the established in vivo tumor model, low dose carfilzomib alone delayed the progression by BLI but did not improve survival (vehicle and carfilzomib-treated mice died between 21-28 days after treatment). Despite the fact that PX-478 did not decrease tumor progression as shown by BLI compared to the vehicle-treated mice, it significantly extended the survival of the mice (animals died between 38-48 days). The combination of carfilzomib and PX-478 significantly decreased the proliferation of tumor shown by BLI (less than 5% of the growth at day 28), as well as considerable increase in survival (the experiment was stopped at 70 days with 100% of the group alive).

Conclusions: We identified a novel resistance mechanism to carfilzomib in MM, in which hypoxia induces P-gp-mediated resistance to carfilzomib. Inhibition of the hypoxic response in MM cells by the HIF inhibitor reduced hypoxia-induced P-gp-mediated resistance to carfilzomib in MM cells in vitro, and delayed tumor progression significantly improving survival and response to carfilzomib in MM-bearing mice in vivo.


Azab:Verastem: Research Funding; Selexys: Research Funding; Karyopharm: Research Funding; Cell Works: Research Funding; Targeted Therapeutics LLC: Other: Founder and owner.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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