Calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinase 2 (CaMKK2) is a key regulator of energy homeostasis in several cell types. Expression of this enzyme in tumor cells promotes proliferation and migration, and expression in tumor-associated immune cells facilitates M2 macrophage polarization and the development of myeloid-derived suppressor cells. Thus, there has been interest in developing CaMKK2 inhibitors as potential anticancer therapeutics. One impediment to clinical development of these agents is that the roles of CaMKK2 in other cellular compartments within the tumor immune microenvironment remain to be established. We report herein that CaMKK2 is expressed at low basal levels in natural killer (NK) cells but is upregulated in tumor-infiltrating NK cells where it suppresses apoptosis and promotes proliferation. NK cell–intrinsic deletion of CaMKK2 increased metastatic progression in several murine models, establishing a critical role for this enzyme in NK cell–mediated antitumor immunity. Ablation of the CaMKK2 protein, but not inhibition of its kinase activity, resulted in decreased NK-cell survival. These results indicate an important scaffolding function for CaMKK2 in NK cells and suggest that competitive CaMKK2 inhibitors and ligand-directed degraders (LDD) are likely to have distinct therapeutic utilities. Finally, we determined that intracellular lactic acid is a key driver of CaMKK2 expression, suggesting that upregulated expression of this enzyme is an adaptive mechanism by which tumor-infiltrating NK cells mitigate the deleterious effects of a lactic acid–rich tumor microenvironment. The findings of this study should inform strategies to manipulate the CaMKK2-signaling axis as a therapeutic approach in cancer.

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