Alterations in the Transcriptional Programs of Myeloma Cells and the Microenvironment during Extramedullary Progression Affect Proliferation and Immune Evasion

Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Feb 15;26(4):935-944. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-19-0694. Epub 2019 Sep 26.


Purpose: In multiple myeloma, extramedullary progression is associated with treatment resistance and a high mortality rate. To understand the molecular mechanisms controlling the devastating progression of myeloma, we applied single-cell RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) to myeloma in the bone marrow and myelomatous pleural effusions or ascites.

Experimental design: Bone marrow or extramedullary myeloma samples were collected from 15 patients and subjected to single-cell RNA-seq. The single-cell transcriptome data of malignant plasma cells and the surrounding immune microenvironment were analyzed.

Results: Comparisons of single-cell transcriptomes revealed the systematic activation of proliferation, antigen presentation, proteasomes, glycolysis, and oxidative phosphorylation pathways in extramedullary myeloma cells. The myeloma cells expressed multiple combinations of growth factors and receptors, suggesting autonomous and pleiotropic growth potential at the single-cell level. Comparisons of the tumor microenvironment revealed the presence of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells in both the bone marrow and extramedullary ascites, demonstrating a gene-expression phenotype indicative of functional compromise. In parallel, isolated myeloma cells persistently expressed class I MHC molecules and upregulated inhibitory molecules for cytotoxic T and NK cells.

Conclusions: These data suggest that myeloma cells are equipped with specialized immune evasion mechanisms in cytotoxic microenvironments. Taken together, single-cell transcriptome analysis revealed transcriptional programs associated with aggressive myeloma progression that support autonomous cell proliferation and immune evasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't