RNA N6-methyladenosine demethylase FTO promotes breast tumor progression through inhibiting BNIP3

Mol Cancer. 2019 Mar 28;18(1):46. doi: 10.1186/s12943-019-1004-4.


Background: N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modification is the most pervasive modification in mRNA, and has been considered as a new layer of epigenetic regulation on mRNA processing, stability and translation. Despite its functional significance in various physiological processes, the role of the m6A modification involved in breast cancer is yet fully understood.

Methods: We used the m6A-RNA immunoprecipitation sequencing to identify the potential targets in breast cancer. To determine the underlying mechanism for the axis of FTO-BNIP3, we performed a series of in vitro and in vivo assays in 3 breast cancer cell lines and 36 primary breast tumor tissues and 12 adjunct tissues.

Results: We showed that FTO, a key m6A demethylase, was up-regulated in human breast cancer. High level of FTO was significantly associated with lower survival rates in patients with breast cancer. FTO promoted breast cancer cell proliferation, colony formation and metastasis in vitro and in vivo. We identified BNIP3, a pro-apoptosis gene, as a downstream target of FTO-mediated m6A modification. Epigenetically, FTO mediated m6A demethylation in the 3'UTR of BNIP3 mRNA and induced its degradation via an YTHDF2 independent mechanism. BNIP3 acts as a tumor suppressor and is negatively correlated with FTO expression in clinical breast cancer patients. BNIP3 dramatically alleviated FTO-dependent tumor growth retardation and metastasis.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate the functional significance of the m6A modification in breast cancer, and suggest that FTO may serve as a novel potential therapeutic target for breast cancer.

Keywords: Apoptosis; BNIP3; Breast cancer; FTO; N6-methyladenosine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenosine / chemistry
  • Adenosine / metabolism
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO / genetics
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Demethylation
  • Disease Progression
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mice, SCID
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Survival Rate
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • BNIP3 protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • N-methyladenosine
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO
  • FTO protein, human
  • Adenosine