Multiple myeloma (MM) is an incurable cancer of bone marrow-resident plasma cells, which evolves from a premalignant state, MGUS, to a form of active disease characterized by an initial response to therapy, followed by cycles of therapeutic successes and failures, culminating in a fatal multi-drug resistant cancer. The molecular mechanisms leading to disease progression and refractory disease in MM remain poorly understood. To address this question, we have generated a new database, consisting of 1,123 MM biopsies from patients treated at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. These samples ranged from MGUS to late relapsed/refractory (LR) disease, and were comprehensively characterized genetically (844 RNAseq, 870 WES, 7 scRNAseq), epigenetically (10 single-cell chromatin accessibility, scATAC-seq) and phenotypically (537 samples assessed for ex vivo drug resistance).

Mutational analysis identified putative driver genes (e.g. NRAS, KRAS) among the highest frequent mutations, as well as a steady increase in mutational load across progression from MGUS to LR samples. However, with the exception of KRAS, these genes did not reach statistical significance according to FISHER's exact test between different disease stages, suggesting that no single mutation is necessary or sufficient to drive MM progression or refractory disease, but rather a common "driver" biology is critical.

Pathway analysis of differentially expressed genes identified cell adhesion, inflammatory cytokines and hematopoietic cell identify as under-expressed in active MM vs. MGUS, while cell cycle, metabolism, DNA repair, protein/RNA synthesis and degradation were over-expressed in LR.

Using an unsupervised systems biology approach, we reconstructed a gene expression map to identify transcriptomic reprogramming events associated with disease progression and evolution of drug resistance. At an epigenetic regulatory level, these genes were enriched for histone modifications (e.g. H3k27me3 and H3k27ac).

Furthermore, scATAC-seq confirmed genome-wide alterations in chromatin accessibility across MM progression, involving shifts in chromatin accessibility of the binding motifs of epigenetic regulator complexes, known to mediate formation of 3D structures (CTCF/YY1) of super enhancers (SE) and cell identity reprograming (POU5F1/SOX2). Additionally, we have identified SE-regulated genes under- (EBF1, RB1, SPI1, KLF6) and over-expressed (PRDM1, IRF4) in MM progression, as well as over-expressed in LR (RFX5, YY1, NBN, CTCF, BCOR).

We have found a correlation between cytogenetic abnormalities and mutations with differential gene expression observed in MM progression, suggesting groups of genetic events with equivalent transcriptomic effect: e.g. NRAS, KRAS, DIS3 and del13q are associated with transcriptomic changes observed during MGUS/SMOL=>active MM transition (Figure 1).

Taken together, our preliminary data suggests that multiple independent combinations of genetic and epigenetic events (e.g. mutations, cytogenetics, SE dysregulation) alter the balance of master epigenetic regulatory circuitry, leading to genome-wide transcriptional reprogramming, facilitating disease progression and emergence of drug resistance.

Figure 1: Topology of transcriptional regulation in MM depicts 16,738 genes whose expression is increased (red) or decreased (green) in presence of genetic abnormality. Differential expression associated with (A) hotspot mutations and (B) cytogenetic abnormalities confirms equivalence of expected pairs (e.g. NRAS and KRAS, BRAF and RAF1), but also proposes novel transcriptomic dysregulation effect of clinically relevant cytogenetic abnormalities, with yet uncharacterized molecular role in MM.


Kulkarni:M2GEN: Current Employment. Zhang:M2GEN: Current Employment. Hampton:M2GEN: Current Employment. Shain:GlaxoSmithKline: Speakers Bureau; Amgen: Speakers Bureau; Karyopharm: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; AbbVie: Research Funding; Takeda: Honoraria, Speakers Bureau; Sanofi/Genzyme: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Speakers Bureau; Janssen: Honoraria, Speakers Bureau; Celgene: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Speakers Bureau; Adaptive: Consultancy, Honoraria; BMS: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Speakers Bureau. Siqueira Silva:AbbVie: Research Funding; Karyopharm: Research Funding; NIH/NCI: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.