Autophagy of the m6A mRNA demethylase FTO is impaired by low-level arsenic exposure to promote tumorigenesis

Yan Hong Cui, Seungwon Yang, Jiangbo Wei, Christopher R. Shea, Wen Zhong, Fang Wang, Palak Shah, Muhammad G. Kibriya, Xiaolong Cui, Habibul Ahsan, Chuan He, Yu Ying He*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Here we show that FTO as an N6-methyladenosine (m6A) RNA demethylase is degraded by selective autophagy, which is impaired by low-level arsenic exposure to promote tumorigenesis. We found that in arsenic-associated human skin lesions, FTO is upregulated, while m6A RNA methylation is downregulated. In keratinocytes, chronic relevant low-level arsenic exposure upregulated FTO, downregulated m6A RNA methylation, and induced malignant transformation and tumorigenesis. FTO deletion inhibited arsenic-induced tumorigenesis. Moreover, in mice, epidermis-specific FTO deletion prevented skin tumorigenesis induced by arsenic and UVB irradiation. Targeting FTO genetically or pharmacologically inhibits the tumorigenicity of arsenic-transformed tumor cells. We identified NEDD4L as the m6A-modified gene target of FTO. Finally, arsenic stabilizes FTO protein through inhibiting p62-mediated selective autophagy. FTO upregulation can in turn inhibit autophagy, leading to a positive feedback loop to maintain FTO accumulation. Our study reveals FTO-mediated dysregulation of mRNA m6A methylation as an epitranscriptomic mechanism to promote arsenic tumorigenicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2183
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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