Targeting the fatty acid binding proteins disrupts multiple myeloma cell cycle progression and MYC signaling

Elife. 2023 Mar 7:12:e81184. doi: 10.7554/eLife.81184.


Multiple myeloma is an incurable plasma cell malignancy with only a 53% 5-year survival rate. There is a critical need to find new multiple myeloma vulnerabilities and therapeutic avenues. Herein, we identified and explored a novel multiple myeloma target: the fatty acid binding protein (FABP) family. In our work, myeloma cells were treated with FABP inhibitors (BMS3094013 and SBFI-26) and examined in vivo and in vitro for cell cycle state, proliferation, apoptosis, mitochondrial membrane potential, cellular metabolism (oxygen consumption rates and fatty acid oxidation), and DNA methylation properties. Myeloma cell responses to BMS309403, SBFI-26, or both, were also assessed with RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) and proteomic analysis, and confirmed with western blotting and qRT-PCR. Myeloma cell dependency on FABPs was assessed using the Cancer Dependency Map (DepMap). Finally, MM patient datasets (CoMMpass and GEO) were mined for FABP expression correlations with clinical outcomes. We found that myeloma cells treated with FABPi or with FABP5 knockout (generated via CRISPR/Cas9 editing) exhibited diminished proliferation, increased apoptosis, and metabolic changes in vitro. FABPi had mixed results in vivo, in two pre-clinical MM mouse models, suggesting optimization of in vivo delivery, dosing, or type of FABP inhibitors will be needed before clinical applicability. FABPi negatively impacted mitochondrial respiration and reduced expression of MYC and other key signaling pathways in MM cells in vitro. Clinical data demonstrated worse overall and progression-free survival in patients with high FABP5 expression in tumor cells. Overall, this study establishes the FABP family as a potentially new target in multiple myeloma. In MM cells, FABPs have a multitude of actions and cellular roles that result in the support of myeloma progression. Further research into the FABP family in MM is warrented, especially into the effective translation of targeting these in vivo.

Keywords: FABP; FABP5; RNA-Seq; cancer biology; fatty acid binding protein; myeloma; proteomics.

Plain language summary

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer for which only a few treatments are available. Currently, only about half the patients with multiple myeloma survive for five years after diagnosis. Because obesity is a risk factor for multiple myeloma, researchers have been studying how fat cells or fatty acids affect multiple myeloma tumor cells to identify new treatment targets. Fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs) are one promising target. The FABPs shuttle fatty acids and help cells communicate. Previous studies linked FABPs to some types of cancer, including another blood cancer called leukemia, and cancers of the prostate and breast. A recent study showed that patients with multiple myeloma, who have high levels of FABP5 in their tumors, have worse outcomes than patients with lower levels. But, so far, no one has studied the effects of inhibiting FABPs in multiple myeloma tumor cells or animals with multiple myeloma. Farrell et al. show that blocking or eliminating FABPs kills myeloma tumor cells and slows their growth in a dish (in vitro) and in some laboratory mice. In the experiments, the researchers treated myeloma cells with drugs that inhibit FABPs or genetically engineered myeloma cells to lack FABPs. They also show that blocking FABPs reduces the activity of a protein called MYC, which promotes tumor cell survival in many types of cancer. It also changed the metabolism of the tumor cell. Finally, the team examined data collected from several sets of patients with multiple myeloma and found that patients with high FABP levels have more aggressive cancer. The experiments lay the groundwork for more studies to determine if drugs or other therapies targeting FABPs could treat multiple myeloma. More research is needed to determine why inhibiting FABPs worked in some mice with multiple myeloma but not others, and whether FABP inhibitors might work better if combined with other cancer therapies. There were no signs that the drugs were toxic in mice, but more studies must prove they are safe and effective before testing the drugs in humans with multiple myeloma. Designing better or more potent FABP-blocking drugs may also lead to better animal study results.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Multiple Myeloma* / genetics
  • Proteomics


  • 1-naphthyl alpha-truxillate
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE190699