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BACKGROUND: Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignancy of plasma cells that largely remains incurable. The search for new therapeutic targets is therefore essential. In addition to a wide panel of genetic mutations, epigenetic alterations also appear as important players in the development of this cancer, thereby offering the possibility to reveal novel approaches and targets for effective therapeutic intervention.
RESULTS: Here, we show that a higher expression of the lysine methyltransferase SETD8, which is responsible for the mono-methylation of histone H4 at lysine 20, is an adverse prognosis factor associated with a poor outcome in two cohorts of newly diagnosed patients. Primary malignant plasma cells are particularly addicted to the activity of this epigenetic enzyme. Indeed, the inhibition of SETD8 by the chemical compound UNC-0379 and the subsequent decrease in histone H4 methylation at lysine 20 are highly toxic in MM cells compared to normal cells from the bone marrow microenvironment. At the molecular level, RNA sequencing and functional studies revealed that SETD8 inhibition induces a mature non-proliferating plasma cell signature and, as observed in other cancers, triggers an activation of the tumor suppressor p53, which together cause an impairment of myeloma cell proliferation and survival. However, a deadly level of replicative stress was also observed in p53-deficient myeloma cells treated with UNC-0379, indicating that the cytotoxicity associated with SETD8 inhibition is not necessarily dependent on p53 activation. Consistent with this, UNC-0379 triggers a p53-independent nucleolar stress characterized by nucleolin delocalization and reduction of nucleolar RNA synthesis. Finally, we showed that SETD8 inhibition is strongly synergistic with melphalan and may overcome resistance to this alkylating agent widely used in MM treatment.
CONCLUSIONS: Altogether, our data indicate that the up-regulation of the epigenetic enzyme SETD8 is associated with a poor outcome and the deregulation of major signaling pathways in MM. Moreover, we provide evidences that myeloma cells are dependent on SETD8 activity and its pharmacological inhibition synergizes with melphalan, which could be beneficial to improve MM treatment in high-risk patients whatever their status for p53.