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J Mol Endocrinol. 2011 Mar 7;46(2):R65-72. doi: 10.1530/JME-10-0169. Print 2011 Apr.

Role of WNT signalling in the determination of human mesenchymal stem cells into preadipocytes.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine II, University of Cologne, Kerpener Strasse 62, 50924 Cologne, Germany.


The development of obesity is characterised not only by increased storage of lipids in existing fat cells but also by the generation of new adipocytes from progenitor cells. This process, called adipogenesis, can be divided into two related steps. First, during determination, multipotent mesenchymal stem cells commit to preadipocytes. These cells exhibit similar morphology compared with stem cells; however, they are committed to the adipogenic lineage and are not longer able to transform into osteoblasts, myocytes or chondrocytes. Secondly, during differentiation, preadipocytes become mature fat cells. As in other developmental processes, adipogenesis is tightly regulated at a molecular level by several transcription factors. Within the last decade, it has also become clear how the activity of these transcription factors is coordinated by extracellular signals. In this respect, secreted WNT signalling molecules are particularly important. Several members of the WNT family have been shown to inhibit early steps of adipogenesis. Conversely, endogenous inhibitors of WNT signalling were found to promote generation of adipocytes, indicating a fundamental role of these bioactive peptides in adipogenesis. From a pathophysiological point of view, it is of interest that polymorphisms in genes of the WNT signalling system have been associated with the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans. Moreover, recent findings indicate that certain WNT molecules are involved in the so-called low-grade inflammation of adipose tissue, which is crucial in the development of obesity-associated insulin resistance. These important findings in nutritional and metabolic medicine will be summarised in the present review.

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