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Dev Biol. 2011 Oct 1;358(1):156-67. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.07.023. Epub 2011 Jul 23.

Coordination of epithelial branching and salivary gland lumen formation by Wnt and FGF signals.

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Department of Craniofacial Development, Dental Institute, King's College London, Guy's Hospital, London Bridge, London, UK.


Branching morphogenesis is a molecularly conserved mechanism that is adopted by several organs, such as the lung, kidney, mammary gland and salivary gland, to maximize the surface area of a tissue within a small volume. Branching occurs through repetitive clefting and elongation of spherical epithelial structures, called endbuds, which invade the surrounding mesenchyme. In the salivary gland, lumen formation takes place alongside branching morphogenesis, but in a controlled manner, so that branching is active at the distal ends of epithelial branches while lumen formation initiates at the proximal ends, and spreads distally. We present here data showing that interaction between FGF signaling and the canonical (β-catenin dependent) and non-canonical branches of Wnt signaling coordinates these two processes. Using the Axin2(lacZ) reporter mice, we find Wnt/β-catenin signaling activity first in the mesenchyme and later, at the time of lumen formation, in the ductal epithelium. Gain and loss of function experiments reveal that this pathway exerts an inhibitory effect on salivary gland branching morphogenesis. We have found that endbuds remain devoid of Wnt/β-catenin signaling activity, a hallmark of ductal structures, through FGF-mediated inhibition of this pathway. Our data also show that FGF signaling has a major role in the control of lumen formation by preventing premature hollowing of epithelial endbuds and slowing down the canalization of presumptive ducts. Concomitantly, FGF signaling strongly represses the ductal marker Cp2l1, most likely via repression of Wnt5b and non-canonical Wnt signaling. Inhibition of canonical and non-canonical Wnt signaling in endbuds by FGF signaling occurs at least in part through sFRP1, a secreted inhibitor of Wnt signaling and downstream target of FGF signaling. Altogether, these findings point to a key function of FGF signaling in the maintenance of an undifferentiated state in endbud cells by inhibition of a ductal fate.

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