Deep profiling of apoptotic pathways with mass cytometry identifies a synergistic drug combination for killing myeloma cells

Charis E. Teh, Jia Nan Gong, David Segal, Tania Tan, Cassandra J. Vandenberg, Pasquale L. Fedele, Michael S.Y. Low, George Grigoriadis, Simon J. Harrison, Andreas Strasser, Andrew W. Roberts, David C.S. Huang, Garry P. Nolan, Daniel H.D. Gray, Melissa E. Ko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Multiple myeloma is an incurable and fatal cancer of immunoglobulin-secreting plasma cells. Most conventional therapies aim to induce apoptosis in myeloma cells but resistance to these drugs often arises and drives relapse. In this study, we sought to identify the best adjunct targets to kill myeloma cells resistant to conventional therapies using deep profiling by mass cytometry (CyTOF). We validated probes to simultaneously detect 26 regulators of cell death, mitosis, cell signaling, and cancer-related pathways at the single-cell level following treatment of myeloma cells with dexamethasone or bortezomib. Time-resolved visualization algorithms and machine learning random forest models (RFMs) delineated putative cell death trajectories and a hierarchy of parameters that specified myeloma cell survival versus apoptosis following treatment. Among these parameters, increased amounts of phosphorylated cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) and the pro-survival protein, MCL-1, were defining features of cells surviving drug treatment. Importantly, the RFM prediction that the combination of an MCL-1 inhibitor with dexamethasone would elicit potent, synergistic killing of myeloma cells was validated in other cell lines, in vivo preclinical models and primary myeloma samples from patients. Furthermore, CyTOF analysis of patient bone marrow cells clearly identified myeloma cells and their key cell survival features. This study demonstrates the utility of CyTOF profiling at the single-cell level to identify clinically relevant drug combinations and tracking of patient responses for future clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2217-2233
Number of pages17
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

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