Multiple myeloma and its precursor plasma cell dyscrasias affect 3% of the elderly population in the US. Proteasome inhibitors are an essential part of several standard drug combinations used to treat this incurable cancer. These drugs interfere with the main pathway of protein degradation and lead to the accumulation of damaged proteins inside cells. Despite promising initial responses, multiple myeloma cells eventually become drug resistant in most patients. The biology behind relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma is complex and poorly understood. Several studies provide evidence that in addition to the proteasome, mitochondrial proteases can also contribute to protein quality control outside of mitochondria. We therefore hypothesized that mitochondrial proteases might counterbalance protein degradation in cancer cells treated with proteasome inhibitors. Using clinical and experimental data, we found that overexpression of the mitochondrial matrix protease LonP1 (Lon Peptidase 1) reduces the efficacy of proteasome inhibitors. Some proteasome inhibitors partially crossinhibit LonP1. However, we show that the resistance effect of LonP1 also occurs when using drugs that do not block this protease, suggesting that LonP1 can compensate for loss of proteasome activity. These results indicate that targeting both the proteasome and mitochondrial proteases such as LonP1 could be beneficial for treatment of multiple myeloma.
Keywords: bortezomib; carfilzomib; drug resistance; mitoprotease; multiple myeloma; ubiquitin-proteasome system.