Accumulating evidence suggests that glioma stem cells (GSCs) are important therapeutic targets in glioblastoma (GBM). In this study, we identified NIMA-related kinase 2 (NEK2) as a functional binding protein of enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) that plays a critical role in the posttranslational regulation of EZH2 protein in GSCs. NEK2 was among the most differentially expressed kinase-encoding genes in GSC-containing cultures (glioma spheres), and it was required for in vitro clonogenicity, in vivo tumor propagation, and radioresistance. Mechanistically, the formation of a protein complex comprising NEK2 and EZH2 in glioma spheres phosphorylated and then protected EZH2 from ubiquitination-dependent protein degradation in a NEK2 kinase activity–dependent manner. Clinically, NEK2 expression in patients with glioma was closely associated with EZH2 expression and correlated with a poor prognosis. NEK2 expression was also substantially elevated in recurrent tumors after therapeutic failure compared with primary untreated tumors in matched GBM patients. We designed a NEK2 kinase inhibitor, compound 3a (CMP3a), which efficiently attenuated GBM growth in a mouse model and exhibited a synergistic effect with radiotherapy. These data demonstrate a key role for NEK2 in maintaining GSCs in GBM by stabilizing the EZH2 protein and introduce the small-molecule inhibitor CMP3a as a potential therapeutic agent for GBM.
Jia Wang, Peng Cheng, Marat S. Pavlyukov, Hai Yu, Zhuo Zhang, Sung-Hak Kim, Mutsuko Minata, Ahmed Mohyeldin, Wanfu Xie, Dongquan Chen, Violaine Goidts, Brendan Frett, Wenhao Hu, Hongyu Li, Yong Jae Shin, Yeri Lee, Do-Hyun Nam, Harley I. Kornblum, Maode Wang, Ichiro Nakano