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J Biol Chem. 2006 May 12;281(19):13247-57. Epub 2006 Mar 16.

Mouse cristin/R-spondin family proteins are novel ligands for the Frizzled 8 and LRP6 receptors and activate beta-catenin-dependent gene expression.

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Center for Molecular Medicine, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Scarborough, Maine 04074, USA.


Wnt signaling plays critical biological roles during normal embryonic development and homeostasis in adults. In the canonical pathway, binding of Wnt ligands to the Frizzled (Fzd) receptor and the low density lipoprotein-related receptor (LRP) 5 or LRP6 coreceptor initiates downstream signaling events leading to gene activation by beta-catenin and the T-cell factor (TCF)-lymphoid enhancer factor (LEF) family transcription factor complex. In this study, we provide several lines of evidence that the mouse Cristin/R-spondin family proteins function as Fzd8 and LRP6 receptor ligands and induce the canonical Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway, leading to TCF-dependent gene activation. First, conditioned medium containing Cristin/R-spondin proteins effectively induced reporter activity in a TCF-binding site-dependent manner. Second, stimulation of cells with Cristin/R-spondin was accompanied by stabilization of endogenous beta-catenin proteins and induction of canonical Wnt target genes. Third, Cristin/R-spondin proteins physically interacted with the extracellular domains of the LRP6 and Fzd8 receptors in vivo and in vitro. Interestingly, unlike canonical Wnt ligands, Cristin/R-spondin failed to form a ternary complex with both LRP6 and Fzd8 receptors, suggesting that R-spondin may activate the canonical Wnt signaling pathway by different mechanisms. Furthermore, Cristin/R-spondin proteins possess an intriguing positive modulatory activity on Wnt ligands, possibly through a direct interaction. Our findings expand the repertoire of ligands that induce beta-catenin/TCF-dependent gene activation and implicate the presence of active beta-catenin-dependent gene activation in a Wnt-free biological context.

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