TBK1 and IKKε act like an OFF switch to limit NLRP3 inflammasome pathway activation

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Sep 21;118(38):e2009309118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2009309118.


NACHT, LRR, and PYD domains-containing protein 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome activation is beneficial during infection and vaccination but, when uncontrolled, is detrimental and contributes to inflammation-driven pathologies. Hence, discovering endogenous mechanisms that regulate NLRP3 activation is important for disease interventions. Activation of NLRP3 is regulated at the transcriptional level and by posttranslational modifications. Here, we describe a posttranslational phospho-switch that licenses NLRP3 activation in macrophages. The ON switch is controlled by the protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) downstream of a variety of NLRP3 activators in vitro and in lipopolysaccharide-induced peritonitis in vivo. The OFF switch is regulated by two closely related kinases, TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1) and I-kappa-B kinase epsilon (IKKε). Pharmacological inhibition of TBK1 and IKKε, as well as simultaneous deletion of TBK1 and IKKε, but not of either kinase alone, increases NLRP3 activation. In addition, TBK1/IKKε inhibitors counteract the effects of PP2A inhibition on inflammasome activity. We find that, mechanistically, TBK1 interacts with NLRP3 and controls the pathway activity at a site distinct from NLRP3-serine 3, previously reported to be under PP2A control. Mutagenesis of NLRP3 confirms serine 3 as an important phospho-switch site but, surprisingly, reveals that this is not the sole site regulated by either TBK1/IKKε or PP2A, because all retain the control over the NLRP3 pathway even when serine 3 is mutated. Altogether, a model emerges whereby TLR-activated TBK1 and IKKε act like a "parking brake" for NLRP3 activation at the time of priming, while PP2A helps remove this parking brake in the presence of NLRP3 activating signals, such as bacterial pore-forming toxins or endogenous danger signals.

Keywords: IKKε; NLRP3 inflammasome; PP2A; TBK1; macrophages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Female
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Kinase / genetics*
  • Inflammasomes / genetics*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein / genetics*
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*


  • Inflammasomes
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • NLRP3 protein, human
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • TBK1 protein, human
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • IKBKE protein, human