Anti-cancer immune responses may contribute to the control of tumors after conventional chemotherapy, and different observations have indicated that chemotherapeutic agents can induce immune responses resulting in cancer cell death and immune-stimulatory side effects. Increasing experimental and clinical evidence highlight the importance of natural killer (NK) cells in immune responses toward multiple myeloma (MM), and combination therapies able to enhance the activity of NK cells against MM are showing promise in treating this hematologic cancer. The epigenetic readers of acetylated histones bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) proteins are critical regulators of gene expression. In cancer, they can upregulate transcription of key oncogenes such as cMYC, IRF4, and BCL-2. In addition, the activity of these proteins can regulate the expression of osteoclastogenic cytokines during cancer progression. Here, we investigated the effect of BET bromodomain protein inhibition, on the expression of NK cell-activating ligands in MM cells.
Five MM cell lines [SKO-007(J3), U266, RPMI-8226, ARP-1, JJN3] and CD138(+) MM cells isolated from MM patients were used to investigate the activity of BET bromodomain inhibitors (BETi) (JQ1 and I-BET151) and of the selective BRD4-degrader proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTAC) (ARV-825), on the expression and function of several NK cell-activating ligands (NKG2DLs and DNAM-1Ls), using flow cytometry, real-time PCR, transient transfections, and degranulation assays.
Our results indicate that inhibition of BET proteins via small molecule inhibitors or their degradation via a hetero-bifunctional PROTAC probe can enhance the expression of MICA, a ligand of the NKG2D receptor, in human MM cell lines and primary malignant plasma cells, rendering myeloma cells more efficient to activate NK cell degranulation. Noteworthy, similar results were obtained using selective CBP/EP300 bromodomain inhibition. Mechanistically, we found that BETi-mediated inhibition of cMYC correlates with the upregulation of miR-125b-5p and the downregulation of the cMYC/miR-125b-5p target gene IRF4, a transcriptional repressor of MICA.
These findings provide new insights on the immuno-mediated antitumor activities of BETi and further elucidate the molecular mechanisms that regulate NK cell-activating ligand expression in MM.