The ‘Fat Mass and Obesity Related’ (FTO) gene: Mechanisms of Impact on Obesity and Energy Balance


A cluster of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the first intron of the fat mass and obesity related (FTO) gene were the first common variants discovered to be associated with body mass index and body fatness. This review summarises what has been later discovered about the biology of FTO drawing together information from both human and animal studies. Subsequent work showed that the ‘at risk’ alleles of these SNPs are associated with greater food intake and increased hunger/lowered satiety, but are not associated with altered resting energy expenditure or low physical activity in humans. FTO is an FE (II) and 2-oxoglutarate dependent DNA/RNA methylase. Contrasting the impact of the SNPs on energy balance in humans, knocking out or reducing activity of the Fto gene in the mouse resulted in lowered adiposity, elevated energy expenditure with no impact on food intake (but the impact on expenditure is disputed). In contrast, overexpression of the gene in mice led to elevated food intake and adiposity, with no impact on expenditure. In rodents, the Fto gene is widely expressed in the brain including hypothalamic nuclei linked to food intake regulation. Since its activity is 2-oxoglutarate dependent it could potentially act as a sensor of citrate acid cycle flux, but this function has been dismissed, and instead it has been suggested to be much more likely to act as an amino acid sensor, linking circulating AAs to the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1. This may be fundamental to its role in development but the link to obesity is less clear. It has been recently suggested that although the obesity related SNPs reside in the first intron of FTO, they may not only impact FTO but mediate their obesity effects via nearby genes (notably RPGRIP1L and IRX3).

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John R. Speakman declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Psychological Issues

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Table 3

Table 3 Effects of variants of the FTO SNPs on food and macronutrient intakes and related parameters (ordered by date of publication)

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Speakman, J.R. The ‘Fat Mass and Obesity Related’ (FTO) gene: Mechanisms of Impact on Obesity and Energy Balance. Curr Obes Rep 4, 73–91 (2015).

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  • FTO
  • GWAS
  • BMI
  • Body composition
  • Adiposity
  • Fatness
  • Obesity
  • Food intake
  • Energy expenditure
  • Physical activity
  • 2-oxoglutarate
  • Demethylation
  • DNA
  • RNA
  • Leptin
  • Ghrelin
  • Hypothalamus
  • Amino acid sensor
  • mTOR
  • Protein intake
  • Macronutrient intake
  • IRX3
  • FTM