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Curr Biol. 1998 Feb 12;8(4):181-90.

Nuclear localization signal-independent and importin/karyopherin-independent nuclear import of beta-catenin.

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Cellular Biochemistry and Biophysics Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York 10021, USA.



Control of the nuclear localization of specific proteins is an important mechanism for regulating many signal transduction pathways. Upon activation of the Wnt signaling pathway, beta-catenin localizes into the nucleus and interacts with TCF/LEF-1 (T-cell factor/lymphocyte enhancer factor-1) transcription factors, triggering activation of downstream genes. The role of regulated nuclear localization in beta-catenin signaling is still unclear. Beta-catenin has no nuclear localization sequence (NLS). Although it has been reported that beta-catenin can piggyback into the nucleus by binding to TCF/LEF-1, there is evidence that its import is independent of TCF/LEF-1 in vivo. Therefore, the mechanism for beta-catenin nuclear localization remains to be established.


We have analyzed beta-catenin nuclear import in an in vitro assay using permeabilized cells. Beta-catenin docks specifically onto the nuclear envelope in the absence of other cytosolic factors. Docking is not inhibited by an NLS peptide and does not require importins/karyopherins, the receptors for classical NLS substrates. Rather, docking is specifically competed by importin-beta/beta-karyopherin, indicating that beta-catenin and importin-beta/beta-karyopherin both interact with common nuclear pore components. Nuclear translocation of beta-catenin is energy dependent and is inhibited by nonhydrolyzable GTP analogs and by a dominant-negative mutant form of the Ran GTPase. Cytosol preparations contain inhibitory activities for beta-catenin import that are distinct from the competition by importin-beta/beta-karyopherin and may be involved in the physiological regulation of the pathway.


Beta-catenin is imported into the nucleus by binding directly to the nuclear pore machinery, similar to importin-beta/beta-karyopherin or other importin-beta-like import factors, such as transportin. These findings provide an explanation for how beta-catenin localizes to the nucleus without an NLS and independently of its interaction with TCF/LEF-1. This is a new and unusual mechanism for the nuclear import of a signal transduction protein. The lack of beta-catenin import activity in the presence of normal cytosol suggests that its import may be regulated by upstream events in the Wnt signaling pathway.

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