Background/aims: Multiple myeloma is an incurable disease and patients eventually die of disease progression due to drug resistance. VLA-4 (very late antigen 4), VCAM (vascular adhesion molecule), LFA-1 (leukocyte function-associated antigen 1), and ICAM-1 (intercellular adhesion molecule 1)-mediated adhesion of myeloma cells to bone marrow stromal cells induces primary multidrug resistance in vitro. Based on these preclinical data we hypothesized that myeloma cells with strong adhesion - due to strong expression of adhesion molecules on the cell surface - are selected by chemotherapy in patients. To prove this hypothesis we determined the expression levels of adhesion molecules in 31 multiple myeloma patients by flow cytometry.
Methods: A 3-color stain with CD38, CD138 and antibodies against VLA-4, ICAM-1, LFA-1, and VCAM was performed. The patients were either at diagnosis (chemo-naive; n=17) or at relapse (pre-treated; n=15). Furthermore, the response to the next chemotherapy of chemo-naive patients was correlated with the expression levels of adhesion molecules.
Results: ICAM-1, VLA-4, and VCAM expression was higher in pre-treated patients than in chemo-naive patients and the expression levels increased with the number of chemotherapy regimens. Primarily multidrug-resistant patients had significantly higher expression levels of VLA-4 and ICAM-1 than responders.
Conclusion: This study suggests that multiple myeloma cells expressing high levels of VLA-4 and ICAM-1 are drug resistant and that such a subpopulation of cells is selected by chemotherapy.