CircGPR137B/miR-4739/FTO feedback loop suppresses tumorigenesis and metastasis of hepatocellular carcinoma

Mol Cancer. 2022 Jul 20;21(1):149. doi: 10.1186/s12943-022-01619-4.


Background: Emerging evidence indicates that circular RNAs (circRNAs) and m6A RNA methylation participate in the pathogenesis and metastasis of multiple malignancies including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, it remains undocumented how circRNAs form a feedback loop with the m6A modification contributing to HCC.

Methods: A novel hsa_circ_0017114 (circGPR137B) was identified from three pairs of primary HCC and adjacent normal tissues by circRNA expression profiling. The association of circGPR137B and miR-4739 with clinicopathological parameters and prognosis in patients with HCC was analyzed by RT-qPCR, fluorescence in situ hybridization and TCGA cohorts. The role of circGPR137B in HCC was estimated in vitro and in vivo. RT-qPCR, western blot, m6A dot blot, RIP, MeRIP and dual-luciferase reporter assays were used to validate the reciprocal regulation of the feedback loop among circGPR137B, miR-4739 and m6A demethylase FTO. Meanwhile, the expression, function and prognosis of FTO in HCC were investigated by RT-qPCR, western blot, TCGA and rescue experiments.

Results: We identified a new dramatically downregulated circGPR137B in HCC tissues, and found that downregulation of circGPR137B or upregulation of miR-4739 was associated with poor prognosis in patients with HCC. Ectopic expression of circGPR137B strikingly repressed the proliferation, colony formation and invasion, whereas knockdown of circGPR137B harbored the opposite effects. Moreover, restored expression of circGPR137B inhibited tumor growth and lung metastasis in vivo. Further investigations showed that circGPR137B, co-localized with miR-4739 in the cytoplasm, acted as a sponge for miR-4739 to upregulate its target FTO, which mediated m6A demethylation of circGPR137B and promoted its expression. Thus, a feedback loop comprising circGPR137B/miR-4739/FTO axis was formed. FTO suppressed cell growth and indicated favorable survival in patients with HCC.

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that circGPR137B inhibits HCC tumorigenesis and metastasis through the circGPR137B/miR-4739/FTO feedback loop. This positive feedback mechanism executed by functional coupling between a circRNA sponge and an m6A modification event suggests a model for epigenetics.

Keywords: CircGPR137B; Demethylation; FTO; Hepatocellular carcinoma; m6A; miR-4739.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Feedback
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Liver Neoplasms* / pathology
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics
  • MicroRNAs* / metabolism
  • RNA, Circular / genetics


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Circular
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO
  • FTO protein, human