The direct nucleic acid repair dioxygenase FTO is an enzyme that demethylates N(6)-methyladenosine (m(6)A) residues in mRNA in vitro and inside cells. FTO is the first RNA demethylase discovered that also serves a major regulatory function in mammals. Together with structure-based virtual screening and biochemical analyses, we report the first identification of several small-molecule inhibitors of human FTO demethylase. The most potent compound, the natural product rhein, which is neither a structural mimic of 2-oxoglutarate nor a chelator of metal ion, competitively binds to the FTO active site in vitro. Rhein also exhibits good inhibitory activity on m(6)A demethylation inside cells. These studies shed light on the development of powerful probes and new therapies for use in RNA biology and drug discovery.
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