CDK20 interacts with KEAP1 to activate NRF2 and promotes radiochemoresistance in lung cancer cells

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Radiochemoresistance is considered the main cause of local recurrence and distant metastasis in lung cancer. However, the underlying mechanisms of radiochemoresistance remain to be uncovered. In this study, we determine the functions of cell cycle-related kinase (CDK20) in radiochemoresistance. CDK20 is a newly identified protein kinase, which plays critical roles in cell growth and proliferation in several types of cancer. Using tandem affinity purification technology, we provide evidences that CDK20 binds to the ubiquitin ligase Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1), which targets transcriptional factor nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (NRF2) for degradation. We show that this interaction is mediated by an evolutionarily conserved ETGE motif on CDK20. Furthermore, we demonstrate that CDK20 competes with NRF2 for KEAP1 binding, enhances the transcriptional activity of NRF2 and lowers the cellular reactive oxygen species level. Moreover, CDK20-depleted cells display impaired cell proliferation, defective G2/M arrest and increased radiochemosensitivity in lung cancer. These phenotypes induced by CDK20 knockdown are partially dependent on NRF2 inactivation. More importantly, CDK20 is overexpressed in human lung cancer tissues, as determined by immunostaining. Collectively, our results suggest that CDK20 positively modulate the KEAP1-NRF2 cytoprotective pathway to regulate tumor progression and radiochemoresistance, implying that CDK20 is a novel, promising therapeutic target for lung cancer.

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