Representing ten percent of hematologic malignancies, multiple myeloma (MM) is typified by clonal plasma cell proliferation in the bone marrow (BM) and may progress to therapy-resistant plasma cell leukemia (PCL). Despite many novel therapies, relapse rates remain high as a result of malignant regeneration (self-renewal) of MM cells in inflammatory microenvironments. In addition to recurrent DNA mutations and epigenetic deregulation, inflammatory cytokine-responsive adenosine deaminase associated with RNA (ADAR1) mediated adenosine to inosine (A-to-I) RNA editing has emerged as a key driver of cancer relapse and progression. In MM, copy number amplification of chromosome 1q21, which contains both ADAR1 and interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6R) gene loci, portends a poor prognosis. Thus, we hypothesized that ADAR1 copy number amplification combined with inflammatory cytokine activation of ADAR1 stimulate malignant regeneration of MM and therapeutic resistance.

Methods and Results

Analysis of MMRF CoMMpass RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) data revealed that high ADAR1 expression (n=162 patients) correlated with significantly reduced progression-free and overall survival compared with a low ADAR1 subset (n=159 patients). In contrast to lentiviral ADAR1 shRNA knockdown and overexpression of an editase defective ADAR1 mutant (ADAR1E912A), lentiviral wild-type ADAR1 overexpression enhanced editing of GLI1, a Hedgehog (Hh) pathway transcriptional activator and self-renewal agonist. Editing of GLI1 transcripts enhanced GLI transcriptional activity in luciferase reporter assays, and promoted lenalidomide resistance in vitro . Finally, lentiviral shRNA ADAR1 knockdown reduced regeneration of high-risk MM in humanized serial transplantation mouse models indicative of reduced malignant self-renewal capacity. These data demonstrate that ADAR1 promotes malignant self-renewal of MM and if selectively inhibited may prevent progression and relapse.


Deregulated RNA editing, driven by aberrant ADAR1 activation, represents a unique source of transcriptomic and proteomic diversity, resulting in self-renewal of MM cells in inflammatory microenvironments. In summary, both genetic (1q21 amplification) and microenvironmental factors (inflammatory cytokines, IMiDs) combine to drive GLI1-dependent malignant regeneration in MM. Thus, ADAR1 represents both a vital prognostic biomarker and therapeutic target in MM.


Stewart: Amgen: Consultancy; Roche: Consultancy; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Consultancy; Celgene: Consultancy; Janssen: Consultancy.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.