Venetoclax sensitivity in multiple myeloma is associated with B-cell gene expression

Blood. 2021 Jul 1;137(26):3604-3615. doi: 10.1182/blood.2020007899.


Venetoclax is a highly potent, selective BCL2 inhibitor capable of inducing apoptosis in cells dependent on BCL2 for survival. Most myeloma is MCL1-dependent; however, a subset of myeloma enriched for translocation t(11;14) is codependent on BCL2 and thus sensitive to venetoclax. The biology underlying this heterogeneity remains poorly understood. We show that knockdown of cyclin D1 does not induce resistance to venetoclax, arguing against a direct role for cyclin D1 in venetoclax sensitivity. To identify other factors contributing to venetoclax response, we studied a panel of 31 myeloma cell lines and 25 patient samples tested for venetoclax sensitivity. In cell lines, we corroborated our previous observation that BIM binding to BCL2 correlates with venetoclax response and further showed that knockout of BIM results in decreased venetoclax sensitivity. RNA-sequencing analysis identified expression of B-cell genes as enriched in venetoclax-sensitive myeloma, although no single gene consistently delineated sensitive and resistant cells. However, a panel of cell surface makers correlated well with ex vivo prediction of venetoclax response in 21 patient samples and may serve as a biomarker independent of t(11;14). Assay for transposase-accessible chromatin sequencing of myeloma cell lines also identified an epigenetic program in venetoclax-sensitive cells that was more similar to B cells than that of venetoclax-resistant cells, as well as enrichment for basic leucine zipper domain-binding motifs such as BATF. Together, these data indicate that remnants of B-cell biology are associated with BCL2 dependency and point to novel biomarkers of venetoclax-sensitive myeloma independent of t(11;14).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 11 / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 11 / metabolism
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 14 / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 14 / metabolism
  • Cyclin D1 / genetics
  • Cyclin D1 / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Multiple Myeloma* / drug therapy
  • Multiple Myeloma* / genetics
  • Multiple Myeloma* / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology*
  • Translocation, Genetic / drug effects


  • BATF protein, human
  • BCL2 protein, human
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • CCND1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Sulfonamides
  • Cyclin D1
  • venetoclax