BACKGROUND: The biological basis for the adverse prognosis of chr1q gain/amplification (1q+) present in ~30% of patients with multiple myeloma (MM) remains ill-defined. The transcription factor (TF) Pre-B-cell leukaemia homeobox 1 (PBX1), encoded on chr1q, acts as master regulator of early hematopoiesis and as an oncogene in leukemia and other malignancies. Herein, we hypothesized that PBX1 orchestrates proliferative regulatory networks that underpin the poor prognosis associated with 1q+ in MM.

METHODS: We employed qPCR for mRNA quantification, western blotting and immunohistochemistry for protein analysis, lentiviral shRNA-mediated knock-down, Hoechst/Annexin V staining and flow-cytometry for apoptosis and cell cycle analysis, ChIPseq for cistrome and RNAseq after knock-down for transcriptome analysis. Additional data were obtained from MMRF/CoMMpass, Blueprint Consortium and Arkansas datasets. Computational analysis of clinical and "-omics" data was performed using standard bioinformatic work-flows; pathway enrichment analysis using EnrichR and GSEA.

RESULTS: Combined genomic (WGS/WES) and transcriptomic (RNAseq) analysis of the CoMMpass dataset identified a subgroup of 1q+ MM patients (60%) characterized by aberrant PBX1 overexpression and amplification (PBX1amp); survival analysis revealed significantly worse outcome of this subgroup compared to 1q+ non-PBX1amp (p<0.05) and 1q-negative (p<0.001) patients. Analysis of the Arkansas dataset validated these findings while immunohistochemistry confirmed PBX1 protein expression in 8/11 1q+ MM patient bone marrow biopsies.

Depletion of PBX1 using 2 validated shRNAs was toxic to the 1q+ MM1.S t(14;16) and U266 t(11;14) myeloma cell lines (MMCL) in vitro, revealing a novel myeloma cell addiction to PBX1. Transcriptome analysis of PBX1-depleted cells showed significant de-regulation of genes (MM1.S: 753down/320up; U266: 598 down/288up) highly enriched in cell cycle and proteasome/ER stress response pathways. Flow-cytometric analysis confirmed that PBX1-depleted myeloma cells undergo cell cycle arrest (G0/1 phase) and apoptosis (n=3; p<0.001).

Genome-wide binding profiling of PBX1 identified 7,354 significantly enriched peaks shared between MM1.S and U266 MMCL. These peaks were distributed at active promoters (~50%) and active enhancers (~30%), as defined by ChromHMM maps; the PBX1 consensus binding motif was identified as top hit upon motif enrichment analysis.

Transcriptome-cistrome integration identified 728 and 282 genes directly activated or repressed, respectively, by PBX1 in MM1.S cells. Again, pathway enrichment analysis of PBX1 direct targets demonstrated significant over-representation of cell cycle and proliferation pathways, as well as positive regulation of various metabolic processes (oxidative phosphorylation, glycolysis, unfolded protein response). Strikingly, enrichment analysis against public ChIPseq datasets revealed significant overlap with gene targets of FOXM1 (200) and E2F (150) TF, suggesting the presence of a united PBX1-FOXM1-E2F regulatory circuitry. In fact, PBX1 binding was detected at an active FOXM1 enhancer and at the E2F1/2 promoters, while FOXM1 and E2F1/2 mRNA levels decreased significantly upon PBX1 depletion in two MMCL.

To further explore the PBX1-FOXM1 interaction, we overlaid the FOXM1-depleted transcriptome with the PBX1 network in MM.1S cells. This identified 160 genes to be co-regulated by PBX1 and FOXM1, including genes previously linked to myeloma cell drug resistance (NEK2, TOP2A, AURKA); however, PBX1 expression was not altered in FOXM1-depleted cells, suggesting that PBX1 is functionally upstream of FOXM1. Additional analysis across 814 primary MM patient CoMMpass transcriptomes confirmed significant co-expression of PBX1 with FOXM1, E2F1/2 and another 67 PBX1-FOXM1 highly expressed, co-regulated gene targets, conferring poor OS (p<0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS: We found that genetic amplification and overexpression of PBX1 defines an ultra high-risk subgroup of 1q+ MM with proliferative features. Myeloma cells are addicted to aberrant PBX1 expression. As well as essential metabolic pathways, PBX1 regulates cell cycle progression by direct transcriptional regulation of FOXM1 and of its target genes. These data reveal PBX1 as a critical biological link between chr1q gain/amplification and poor prognosis in a subset of MM patients.


Auner:Karyopharm: Consultancy; Amgen: Other: Consultancy and Research Funding; Takeda: Consultancy. Caputo:GSK: Research Funding. Karadimitris:GSK: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.