Multiple myeloma (MM) is a neoplasm thought to arise from a damaged germinal center B-cell that progresses to a plasma cell clone arising in bone marrow. MM comprises 20% of all hematologic cancer deaths. Persons of African ancestry (AA) have a 1.5 to 2-fold higher risk compared to individuals of European ancestry (EA). Genetically driven differences in hematopoiesis may lead to variation in the levels white blood cell (WBC) subsets which could, in turn, be associated with MM etiology. There are differences in genetic determinants of WBC traits between EA and AA populations, with possible implications for the racial disparity in risk.

We tested the above hypothesis using Mendelian randomization (MR), an approach that leverages genetic determinants of specific traits (i.e. WBC counts) to estimate their effects on the risk of an outcome; and a transcriptome-wide association study (TWAS), which utilizes genetic predictors of gene expression to identify susceptibility genes. These analytic approaches were applied to data from the African American Multiple Myeloma Study (AAMMS) consisting of 1813 cases and 8871 AA cancer-free controls to examine how differences in heritable WBC gene expression profiles influence MM risk.

Genetic determinants of variation in WBC subsets in AA were obtained from the literature and supplemented with new genome-wide association findings in AA subjects from the UK Biobank cohort (n=6108). Odds ratios (OR) for MM per 1 standard deviation (SD) increase in each WBC phenotype were estimated using independent (linkage disequilibrium (LD) r2<0.10) variants with P<10-6 as genetic instruments. Analyses based on variants associated with WBC traits in AA populations did not identify any statistically-significant associations between MM risk and WBC overall (p=0.81, using 15 SNPs) or subsets (lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, neutrophils and basophils, p>0.05 for each). However, when we applied genetic determinants of WBC identified in 330,000 cancer-free EA UK Biobank participants (P<10-8, replication P<0.05, LD r2<0.05), a statistically significant inverse relationship emerged between increasing lymphocyte counts and MM risk (OR=0.80, 95% CI: 0.66-0.97, p=0.02, using 385 SNPs), as well as increasing basophil counts (OR=0.63, 95% CI: 0.41-0.96, p=0.03, using 140 SNPs).

Next, we examined the association between WBC gene expression profiles and MM risk in AAMMS data. We applied published and validated ancestry-specific models developed using the PrediXcan approach, which leverage germline genetic and transcriptomic data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) (Mogil et al. PMID: 30096133). The primary TWAS used gene expression models trained in AA subjects (n=233), with sensitivity analyses using models developed in AA and Hispanic subjects (n=585). The TWAS significance threshold was based on the number of genes with significant germline prediction models (p<0.05 and R2 ≥0.05) in AA, corresponding to P < 0.05/2700 = 1.85×10-5.

The expression of two genes was significantly associated with MM risk: KANK1at 9p24.3 (P = 1.01×10-5) and DNAJC27at 2p23.3 (P = 1.56×10-5). KANK1is a candidate tumor suppressor gene for renal cell carcinoma and has recently been associated with MM risk in AA [Du, Blood 2017 130:3058]. Here we provide additional evidence for its role in MM etiology via gene expression-mediated mechanisms. DNAJC27 (previously known as RBJ) is a novel MM risk gene linked to constitutive activation of ERK in solid tumors. We also identified two suggestively associated genes: PRR14 (P = 1.34×10-4; combined AA-Hispanic sample: P = 1.56×10-6), which has been linked to MM risk in EA populations, and PARP16 (P = 9.46×10-5).

To our knowledge this is the first study to comprehensively examine variation in WBC traits and gene expression profiles with respect to MM risk in AA. Our TWAS analysis leveraged data from the largest collection of genetic and gene expression data in AA, enabling ancestry-matched inference and identification of two novel risk genes. Although the limited availability of genetic instruments for WBC limited the power of MR analysis, findings using variants identified in European populations may offer some insight into trans-ethnic etiologic pathways and contribute to risk stratification strategies using genetic and blood cell count biomarkers. Future studies, particularly with MGUS-free controls, are needed to validate these results.

Disclosures

Song:Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc: Employment. Rand:Ancestry.com: Employment. Ailawadhi:Cellectar: Research Funding; Janssen: Consultancy, Research Funding; Celgene: Consultancy; Pharmacyclics: Research Funding; Amgen: Consultancy, Research Funding; Takeda: Consultancy. Nooka:Takeda: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; Janssen: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; GSK: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; Spectrum pharmaceuticals: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; Adaptive technologies: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; Amgen: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; Celgene: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation; BMS: Honoraria, Other: advisory board participation. Singhal:Bureau of Millennium/Takeda, Celgene, Janssen, Celgene, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Bluebird: Speakers Bureau. van Rhee:Takeda: Consultancy; Sanofi Genzyme: Consultancy; Castleman Disease Collaborative Network: Consultancy; EUSA: Consultancy; Adicet Bio: Consultancy; Kite Pharma: Consultancy; Karyopharm Therapeutics: Consultancy. Mehta:Millennium/Takeda, Celgene; stock in Celgene, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Bluebird: Speakers Bureau. Wolf:Takeda: Consultancy; Celgene: Consultancy; Novartis: Consultancy; Janssen: Consultancy; Amgen: Consultancy. Martin:Roche and Juno: Consultancy; Amgen, Sanofi, Seattle Genetics: Research Funding. Fiala:Incyte: Research Funding. Terebelo:Jannsen: Speakers Bureau; Celgene: Honoraria; Newland Medical Asociates: Employment. Anderson:Bristol-Myers Squibb: Other: Scientific Founder; Oncopep: Other: Scientific Founder; Amgen: Consultancy, Speakers Bureau; Janssen: Consultancy, Speakers Bureau; Takeda: Consultancy, Speakers Bureau; Celgene: Consultancy, Speakers Bureau; Sanofi-Aventis: Other: Advisory Board. Vij:Bristol-Myers Squibb: Honoraria, Research Funding; Celgene: Honoraria, Research Funding; Genentech: Honoraria; Janssen: Honoraria; Karyopharm: Honoraria; Sanofi: Honoraria; Takeda: Honoraria, Research Funding. Bernal-Mizrachi:TAKEDA: Research Funding; Kodikas Therapeutic Solutions, Inc: Equity Ownership; Winship Cancer Institute: Employment, Patents & Royalties. Morgan:Amgen, Roche, Abbvie, Takeda, Celgene, Janssen: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Celgene: Other: research grant, Research Funding. Zonder:Celgene Corporation: Consultancy, Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Takeda: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Amgen: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Intellia: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Caelum: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Alnylam: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; BMS: Consultancy, Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Janssen: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Oncopeptides: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees. Huff:Member of Safety Monitoring Board for Johnson and Johnson: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Karyopharm, Sanofi, MiDiagnostics: Consultancy. Lonial:Karyopharm: Consultancy; Takeda: Consultancy, Research Funding; Amgen: Consultancy; BMS: Consultancy; Janssen: Consultancy, Research Funding; GSK: Consultancy; Celgene Corporation: Consultancy, Research Funding; Genentech: Consultancy. Orlowski:Poseida Therapeutics, Inc.: Research Funding.

Author notes

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.