Overexpression of the transcription factor MAF, as a result of its juxtaposition to the IgH enhancer [MAF-translocated t(14;16)], is a myeloma-initiating event in 3-5% of patients with multiple myeloma (MM) and confers a poor prognosis. MAF is also overexpressed in another 40% of cases, often in co-operation with the oncogene MMSET.

The mechanisms by which MAF overexpression impacts on the regulatory genome to generate the MAF-driven oncogenic transcriptome and its direct targets are not known.

To address this, we employed a multi-layer -omics approach using primary myeloma plasma cells (PC) as well as myeloma cell lines (MMCL).

First, we determined the chromatin accessibility and transcriptome profiles of MAF-translocated myeloma by performing ATAC-seq and RNA-seq, respectively, in purified bone marrow CD138+ PC from two patients with t(14;16) and three healthy donors. We identified 6,640 differentially accessible regions, 87% of which displayed enhanced chromatin accessibility in MAF samples compared to normal PC. Secondary analysis comparing this with ATAC-seq data from a set of 28 other MM samples, including hyperdiploid, MMSET and CCND1-translocated MM, revealed 33% of those regions to be MAF subgroup specific (1,949 regions), with the rest shared between MAF and other cytogenetic groups. Gene annotation and pathway enrichment analysis using GREAT confirmed overrepresentation of the MF myeloma patient signature, as previously identified in microarray datasets. RNA-seq detected significant upregulation of approximately 900 genes in MAF samples compared to normal counterparts, including MAF itself (top 4th hit) as well as its presumed targets (CCND2, ITGB7 and NUAK1).

Next, we obtained the MAF cistrome using ChIP-seq in the MAF-translocated MMCL MM1.S and integrated it with the primary PC ATAC-seq data. This revealed that 31% (618/1,949) of the differentially accessible regions in MAF-translocated MM PC are also MAF-bound. Additional overlay with ENCODE ChromHMM epigenome map showed that 47% of MAF binding sites are on active enhancers and 42% on active promoters signifying potential direct regulation of the corresponding genes.

Next, we superimposed the accessible and MAF-bound loci on the epigenomic landscapes of normal PC and other B-cell types using their corresponding ChromHMM maps (Blueprint consortium data). Interestingly, 56% (345/618) of the MAF-specific regions were not active in any stage of B cell development. This suggests that aberrant MAF overexpression and chromatin binding in PC is associated with de novo activation of these chromatin regions, over half of which (200/345; 58%) are enhancers; we termed these 'neo-enhancers'.

Upon de novo motif analysis of MAF ChIP-seq in MAF-translocated JJN3 and MM1.S MMCL, we confirmed MAF as the first and, interestingly, IRF4 as the second top hit, suggesting a possible MAF-IRF4 functional interaction in myelomagenesis. Indeed, overlay of the accessible MAF-bound loci with IRF4 ChIP-seq data in MM1.S revealed 63% co-occupancy (including 62% of "neo-enhancers"), proposing a novel and extensive co-operative chromatin-based network between the two transcription factors.

Final integration of the accessible MAF-bound regions with the paired transcriptomes of primary myeloma PC revealed a set 206 candidate enhancer-gene pairs. Strikingly, we identified two IRF4-cobound "neo-enhancers" linked to overexpression of TLR4 and CCR1, two genes known for their roles in myeloma cell proliferation and migration. We confirmed significant downregulation of both genes upon shRNA-mediated knockdown of MAF in the two MAF-translocated MMCL, MM1.S and JJN3, as well as the lethality of MAF depletion. Further, MAF overexpression in MAF-negative myeloma backgrounds led to transcriptional upregulation of these genes, further validating them as MAF targets. While CRISPR/Cas9i experiments targeting TLR4 are ongoing, preliminary results validated the functional role of the "neo-enhancer" in CCR1 gene expression.

In conclusion, we demonstrate for the first time an extensive re-organisation of the PC chromatin conferred by oncogenic MAF in MM; we reveal its extensive co-operation with IRF4 in this process; we validate the directly MAF-regulated genes and functionally characterise neo-enhancers of key MAF-dependent genes that in addition to MAF itself are also critical for myeloma biology.


Hatjiharissi:Janssen: Honoraria. Caputo:GSK: Research Funding. Karadimitris:GSK: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.