Loss of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor is a hallmark feature of renal clear cell carcinoma. VHL inactivation results in the constitutive activation of the hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) HIF-1 and HIF-2 and their downstream targets, including the proangiogenic factors VEGF and PDGF. However, antiangiogenic agents and HIF-2 inhibitors have limited efficacy in cancer therapy due to the development of resistance. Here we employed an innovative computational platform, Mining of Synthetic Lethals (MiSL), to identify synthetic lethal interactions with the loss of VHL through analysis of primary tumor genomic and transcriptomic data. Using this approach, we identified a synthetic lethal interaction between VHL and the m6A RNA demethylase FTO in renal cell carcinoma. MiSL identified FTO as a synthetic lethal partner of VHL because deletions of FTO are mutually exclusive with VHL loss in pan cancer datasets. Moreover, FTO expression is increased in VHL-deficient ccRCC tumors compared to normal adjacent tissue. Genetic inactivation of FTO using multiple orthogonal approaches revealed that FTO inhibition selectively reduces the growth and survival of VHL-deficient cells in vitro and in vivo. Notably, FTO inhibition reduced the survival of both HIF wild type and HIF-deficient tumors, identifying FTO as an HIF-independent vulnerability of VHL-deficient cancers. Integrated analysis of transcriptome-wide m6A-seq and mRNA-seq analysis identified the glutamine transporter SLC1A5 as an FTO target that promotes metabolic reprogramming and survival of VHL-deficient ccRCC cells. These findings identify FTO as a potential HIF-independent therapeutic target for the treatment of VHL-deficient renal cell carcinoma.
Keywords: FTO; SLC1A5; kidney cancer; synthetic lethality; von Hippel–Lindau.