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New steps in the Wnt/beta-catenin signal transduction pathway.

Wnt regulates developmental and oncogenic processes through its downstream effector, beta-catenin, and a set of other intracellular regulators that are largely conserved among species. Wnt family genes encode secreted glycoproteins that act as ligands for membrane receptors belonging to the Frizzled family of proteins. Wnt-1 originally was found as a proto-oncogene that was upregulated in tumors caused by the mouse mammary tumor virus. The Drosophila homologue of Wnt-1, wingless, is a segment polarity gene that regulates body patterning of the fly embryo. In Xenopus, the Wnt pathway regulates formation of the ventral-dorsal axis. Although Wnt proteins are expressed widely in mammals, the function of the Wnt signaling pathway in normal adult mammalian tissues is not understood. Downstream components of the Wnt pathway, APC (adenomatous polyposis coli) and beta-catenin, clearly are involved in human cancer. There are also several reports that Wnt ligands are highly expressed in tumors. Wnt stabilizes cytoplasmic beta-catenin and activates beta-catenin/Lef-1 (lymphoid enhancer factor), Tcf (T-cell factor)-dependent gene transcription. This regulation of cytosolic beta-catenin is mediated by glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) activity but in neither case is the mechanism known. The mechanism by which Wnt inhibits GSK-3 is unknown. Recent studies have shown that some of the intracellular signaling molecules that mediate the Wnt pathway are in complexes, including Dishevelled (Dsh or Dvl), GSK-3beta, and APC protein. However, little is known about how Wnt or other upstream stimuli regulate these complexes to stabilize beta-catenin. We took a variety of approaches to identify new components of the Wnt pathway. Using an expression-cloning technique, we isolated casein kinase I (CKI)epsilon as a positive regulator of beta-catenin in the Wnt pathway. Overexpression of CKIepsilon mimics Wnt by stabilizing beta-catenin, thereby increasing expression of beta-catenin-dependent genes. Inhibition of endogenous CKIepsilon attenuated gene transcription stimulated by Wnt or by Dsh. CKIepsilon forms a complex with Axin and the other downstream components of the Wnt pathway. CKIepsilon is a positive regulator of the Wnt pathway and a possible functional link between upstream signals and the intracellular Axin signaling complex that regulates beta-catenin. In separate experiments, we have identified a Dishevelled-associated kinase (DAK) that binds to Dsh and regulates its functions. Dsh is required for two different pathways, the Wnt pathway and planar polarity pathway in Drosophila. DAK dramatically enhances the function of Dsh in the Wnt pathway and inhibits its function in the planar polarity pathway. This chapter will discuss these newly identified components of the Wnt pathway.

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