Despite the substantial impact of post-translational modifications on programmed cell death 1 ligand 1 (PD-L1), its importance in therapeutic resistance in pancreatic cancer remains poorly defined. Here, we demonstrate that never in mitosis gene A-related kinase 2 (NEK2) phosphorylates PD-L1 to maintain its stability, causing PD-L1-targeted pancreatic cancer immunotherapy to have poor efficacy. We identify NEK2 as a prognostic factor in immunologically "hot" pancreatic cancer, involved in the onset and development of pancreatic tumors in an immune-dependent manner. NEK2 deficiency results in the suppression of PD-L1 expression and enhancement of lymphocyte infiltration. A NEK binding motif (F/LXXS/T) is identified in the glycosylation-rich region of PD-L1. NEK2 interacts with PD-L1, phosphorylating the T194/T210 residues and preventing ubiquitin-proteasome pathway-mediated degradation of PD-L1 in ER lumen. NEK2 inhibition thereby sensitizes PD-L1 blockade, synergically enhancing the anti-pancreatic cancer immune response. Together, the present study proposes a promising strategy for improving the effectiveness of pancreatic cancer immunotherapy.
© 2021. The Author(s).