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Dev Biol. 2009 Oct 1;334(1):97-108. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.07.021. Epub 2009 Jul 23.

Stabilized beta-catenin in lung epithelial cells changes cell fate and leads to tracheal and bronchial polyposis.

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Department of Pediatrics, Women's and Children's Hospital, USC Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


The precise mechanisms by which beta-catenin controls morphogenesis and cell differentiation remain largely unknown. Using embryonic lung development as a model, we deleted exon 3 of beta-catenin via Nkx2.1-cre in the Catnb[+/lox(ex3)] mice and studied its impact on epithelial morphogenesis. Robust selective accumulation of truncated, stabilized beta-catenin was found in Nkx2.1-cre;Catnb[+/lox(ex3)] lungs that were associated with the formation of polyp-like structures in the trachea and main-stem bronchi. Characterization of polyps suggests that accumulated beta-catenin impacts epithelial morphogenesis in at least two ways. "Intracellular" accumulation of beta-catenin blocked differentiation of spatially-appropriate airway epithelial cell types, Clara cells, ciliated cells and basal cells, and activated UCHL1, a marker for pulmonary neuroendocrine cells. There was also evidence for a "paracrine" impact of beta-catenin accumulation, potentially mediated via activation of Bmp4 that inhibited Clara and ciliated, but not basal cell differentiation. Thus, excess beta-catenin can alter cell fate determination by both direct and paracrine mechanisms.

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