Introduction Multiple myeloma (MM) remains incurable despite novel therapies, highlighting the need for further identification of factors mediating disease progression and resistance. Our studies have identified an integral role of bone marrow (BM) plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in MM pathogenesis. The functional significance of increased numbers of pDCs in MM BM is evident from our observations that pDCs: are relatively resistant to novel and conventional therapies; protect tumor cells from therapy-induced cytotoxicity; promote tumor growth and survival; and suppress immune responses (Chauhan et al, Cancer Cell 2009, 16:309-323). Aberrant pDC function is evidenced in their interactions not only with MM cells, but also with other immune effector T cells and NK cells in the MM BM milieu (Ray et al, Leukemia 2015, 29:1441-1444). Directly targeting pDC interactions with MM and immune effector cells in the MM BM milieu will be required to enhance both anti-tumor immunity and cytotoxicity. However, therapies targeting pDCs are lacking. We found that IL-3R is highly expressed on pDCs, and that pDC-MM interactions trigger secretion of IL-3, which in turn, promotes both pDC survival and osteolytic bone disease. Recent efforts have led to the development of a novel therapeutic agent SL-401, which specifically targets IL-3R-expressing pDCs. Here we examined the effect of SL-401 on pDC-induced MM cell growth both in vitro and in vivo, as well as on IL-3R-expressing osteoclasts.

Methods Patient MM cells, pDCs, and MNCs were obtained from normal donors or MM patients. Cell growth/viability was analyzed using MTT/WST assays. OCL function and bone resorption were measured using the OsteoAssays and TRAP staining. The RPMI-8226 cell line was used to isolate MM-SPs by flow-cytometry based Hoechst 33342 staining. SL-401 is a recombinant protein expressed in E. coli. The hybrid gene is comprised of human IL-3 fused to truncated diphtheria toxin (DT). The IL-3 domain of SL-401, which replaces the native binding domain of DT, targets SL-401 to cells that overexpress IL-3R. SL-401 was obtained from Stemline Therapeutics, NY; bortezomib, lenalidomide, pomalidomide, and melphalan were purchased from Selleck Chemicals. For animal model studies, SL-401 (16.5 μg/kg) was administered intravenously daily for 2 weeks.

Results SL-401 triggered significant apoptosis in pDCs (>95%) at low picomolar concentrations that are well within clinically achievable doses.Higher concentrations of SL-401 trigger a modest apoptosis (30%± 1.3% apoptosis at 83 ng/ml or 1.3 nM) in MM cells due to lower IL-3R expression versus pDCs. Moreover, SL-401 did not significantly induce apoptosis of normal PBMCs (8% ± 0.5% apoptosis at 83 ng/ml), suggesting a favorable therapeutic index for SL-401. SL-401 inhibited pDC-induced growth of MM cell lines and patient MM cells in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, 6 of 9 MM samples were obtained from patients whose disease was progressing while on bortezomib, dexamethasone, and lenalidomide therapies. Combinations of SL-401 with melphalan, bortezomib, lenalidomide, or pomalidomide induced synergistic anti-MM activity (Combination index < 1). SL-401 blocked monocyte-derived osteoclast formation in a dose-dependent fashion, as well as restored MM patient BM-derived osteoblast formation. Having defined the efficacy of SL-401 in targeting pDCs and pDC-triggered MM cell growth in vitro, we validated these findings in vivo using our murine xenograft model of human MM, under auspices of protocols approved by our institutional animal protection committee. SL-401 inhibited pDC-induced MM cell growth in vivo and prolonged survival in a murine xenograft model of human MM. We also evaluated the efficacy of SL-401 in vivo using our SCID-human (SCID-hu) mouse model, which reflects the human BM milieu with human cytokines and extracellular matrix proteins. SL-401 significantly abrogated pDC-triggered MM cell growth in vivo in SCID-hu model.

Conclusions Our data provide the basis for using SL-401 to directly target pDCs and inhibit the pDC-MM interaction as well as target osteolytic bone disease in novel therapeutic strategies in order to enhance MM cytotoxicity, overcome drug resistance, and improve patient outcome. The interactions of immune effector cells in the MM tumor microenvironment also provide a rationale for combining SL-401 with checkpoint inhibitors.

Correspondence: Dharminder Chauhan


Macri:Stemline Therapeutics, Inc., New York, NY USA: Employment. Brooks:Stemline Therapeutics, Inc.: Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties. Rowinsky:Stemline Therapeutics: Employment, Equity Ownership. Richardson:Millennium Takeda: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Gentium S.p.A.: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Novartis: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Celgene Corporation: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees. Chauhan:Stemline Therapeutics: Consultancy.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.