Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 5-26-2010



Multiple myeloma (MM) is a malignancy of terminally-differentiated plasma cells, and the second most prevalent blood cancer. At present there is no cure for MM, and the average prognosis is only three to five years. Current treatments such as chemotherapy are able to prolong a patient's life but rarely prevent relapse of the disease. Even hematopoietic stem cell transplants and novel drug combinations are often not curative, underscoring the need for a continued search for novel therapeutics. CD137 and its ligand are members of the Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) receptor and TNF superfamilies, respectively. Since CD137 ligand cross-linking enhances proliferation and survival of healthy B cells we hypothesized that it would also act as a growth stimulus for B cell cancers.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Proliferation and survival of B cell lymphoma cell lines were not affected or slightly enhanced by CD137 ligand agonists in vitro. But surprisingly, they had the opposite effects on MM cells, where CD137 ligand signals inhibited proliferation and induced cell death by apoptosis. Furthermore, secretion of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, IL-6 and IL-8 were also enhanced in MM but not in non-MM cell lines in response to CD137 ligand agonists. The secretion of these cytokines in response to CD137 ligand signaling was consistent with the observed activation of the classical NF-κB pathway. We hypothesize that the induction of this pathway results in activation-induced cell death, and that this is the underlying mechanism of CD137-induced MM cell death and growth arrest.


These data point to a hitherto unrecognized role of CD137 and CD137 ligand in MM cell biology. The selective inhibition of proliferation and induction of cell death in MM cells by CD137 ligand agonists may also warrant a closer evaluation of their therapeutic potential.


The copy of record is available from the publisher at Copyright © 2010 Gullo et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010845