TANK-Binding Kinase 1 (TBK1) Serves as a Potential Target for Hepatocellular Carcinoma by Enhancing Tumor Immune Infiltration

Front Immunol. 2021 Feb 18:12:612139. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.612139. eCollection 2021.


Background: Numerous cancer types present the aberrant TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1) expression, which plays an important role in driving inflammation and innate immunity. However, the prognostic role of TBK1 and its relationship with immune cell infiltration in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remain unclear.

Methods: The expression and prognostic value of TBK1 was analyzed by Tumor Immune Estimation Resource (TIMER), Kaplan-Meier plotter and Gene Expression Profiling Interactive Analysis (GEPIA), Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC) and further confirmed in the present cohort of patients with HCC. The association between TBK1 and HCC immune infiltrates, and its potential mechanism were investigated via analyses of the Tumor Immune Estimation Resource, tumor-immune system interactions database (TISIDB), CIBERSORT, STRING, and Metascape. The effect of TBK1 on immune infiltrates and the therapeutic value of targeting TBK1 were further investigated in a HCC mouse model by treatment with a TBK1 antagonist.

Results: The level of TBK1 expression in HCC was higher than that measured in normal tissues, and associated with poorer overall survival (GEPIA: hazard ratio [HR]=1.80, P=0.038; Kaplan-Meier plotter: HR=1.87, P<0.001; CPTAC: HR=2.23, P=0.007; Our cohort: HR=2.92, P=0.002). In addition, high TBK1 expression was found in HCC with advanced TNM stage and identified as an independent poor prognostic factor for overall survival among patients with HCC. In terms of immune infiltration, tumor tissues from HCC patients with high TBK1 expression had a low proportion of CD8+ T cells, and TBK1 expression did not show prognostic value in HCC patients with enriched CD8+ T cells. Furthermore, TBK1 expression was positively correlated with the markers of T cell exhaustion and immunosuppressive cells in the HCC microenvironment. Mechanistically, the promotion of HCC immunosuppression by TBK1 was involved in the regulation of inflammatory cytokines. In vivo experiments revealed that treatment with a TBK1 antagonist delayed HCC growth by increasing the number of tumor-infiltrating CD8+ T cells.

Conclusions: The up-regulated expression of TBK1 may be useful in predicting poor prognosis of patients with HCC. In addition, TBK1, which promotes the HCC immunosuppressive microenvironment, may be a potential immunotherapeutic target for patients with HCC.

Keywords: TANK-binding kinase 1; hepatocellular carcinoma; immune infiltration; inflammation; targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology*
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics*
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Transcriptome
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment* / immunology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cytokines
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • TBK1 protein, human