Novel positioning from obesity to cancer: FTO, an m6A RNA demethylase, regulates tumour progression

  • JiaLing Chen
  • Bin DuEmail author
Review – Cancer Research



The fat mass- and obesity-associated (FTO) gene on chromosome 16q12.2 shows an intimate association with obesity and body mass index. Recently, research into the FTO gene and its expression product has attracted widespread interest due to the identification of FTO as an N6-methyladenosine (m6A) demethylase. FTO primarily regulates the m6A levels of downstream targets via their 3′ untranslated regions. FTO not only plays a critical role in obesity-related diseases but also is involved in the occurrence, development and prognosis of many types of cancer, such as acute myeloid leukaemia, glioblastoma and breast cancer. Currently, studies indicate that FTO is a crucial component of m6A modification, it regulates cancer stem cell function, and promotes the growth, self-renewal and metastasis of cancer cells. In this review, we summarized and analysed the data regarding the structural features and biological functions of FTO as well as its association with different cancers and possible molecular mechanisms.


We systematically reviewed the related literatures regarding FTO and its demethylation activity in many pathologic and physiological processes, especially in cancer-related diseases based on PubMed databases in this article.


Mounting evidence indicated that FTO plays a critical role in occurrence, progression and treatment of various cancers, even acting as a cancer oncogene in acute myeloid leukaemia, research on which is no longer restricted to metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.


Considering FTO’s critical role in many diseases, FTO may become a new promising target for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases in the near future, especially for specific types of cancers, such as acute myeloid leukaemia, glioblastoma and breast cancer.


FTO M6A RNA demethylase Tumourigenesis Oncogene Proliferation Chemo-radiotherapy resistance 



Fat mass and obesity-associated


Body mass index


Type 2 diabetes mellitus


Single-nucleotide polymorphisms




Genome-wide association studies


Exportin 2


Untranslated regions






Acute myeloid leukaemia


Mixed lineage leukaemia




Cancer stem cell


DNA methyltransferases


Iroquois-related homeobox 3


Circular RNAs


Messenger RNAs


Long non-coding RNAs


Methyltransferase-like 14


Methyltransferase-like 3


Wilms’ tumour 1-associating protein


AlkB homologue 5


Ankyrin-repeat SOCS box-containing protein 2


Retinoic acid receptor alpha


All-trans-retinoic acid




Isocitrate dehydrogenase ½


CCAAT enhancer-binding protein alpha


Glioblastoma stem cells


Forkhead box transcription factor M1


Excision repair cross-complementation group 1



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (China; 31201028, 81872893), the Fundamental Research Fund for the Central Universities (China; 21617462), the Guangzhou Science Technology and Innovation Commission (China; 201707010099), the Medical Scientific Research Foundation of Guangdong Province (China; A2017574) and the Provincial Undergraduates’ Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Programs (China; 82618257).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

Ethical statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PathologySchool of Medicine, Jinan UniversityGuangzhouChina

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