Fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 (FGFR3) is frequently activated by mutation or overexpression, and it is a validated therapeutic target in urothelial carcinoma (UC) of the bladder. However, the role and detailed molecular mechanism of FGFR3 in the immune microenvironment of bladder cancer remain largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that inhibition of FGFR3 in FGFR3-activated bladder cancer elevates PD-L1 protein levels by affecting its ubiquitination, thereby inhibiting the antitumor activity of CD8+ T cells. Tissue microarray analysis in human UC showed an inverse correlation between FGFR3 and PD-L1. Furthermore, NEDD4, an E3 ubiquitin ligase of the NEDD4 family of proteins, was phosphorylated by FGFR3 activation and served as a regulator of PD-L1 ubiquitination. Mechanistically, NEDD4 interacted with PD-L1 and catalyzed Lys48 (K48)-linked polyubiquitination of PD-L1. In mice bearing NEDD4 knockout bladder cancer, CD8+ T-cell infiltration and antitumor activity were significantly inhibited due to PD-L1 upregulation in bladder cancer cells. Furthermore, multiple FGFR3-activated tumor-bearing mouse models suggested that attenuated CD8+ T-cell–mediated antitumor efficacy following FGFR3-targeted therapy could be rescued by a combination with anti-PD-1 immunotherapy, which leads to effective tumor suppression. This study establishes a key molecular link between targeted therapy and immune surveillance and identifies NEDD4 as a crucial E3 ubiquitin ligase that targets PD-L1 for degradation in FGFR3-activated bladder cancer. These findings may potentially be exploited for combination therapies in UC of the bladder and possibly other malignancies with activated FGFR3.
NEDD4 links two important molecules associated with targeted therapy and immune surveillance, providing mechanistic rationale and preclinical support for immuno-targeted combination therapy for FGFR3-activated bladder cancer.