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Exp Cell Res. 2004 Aug 15;298(2):369-87.

Wnt-4 activates the canonical beta-catenin-mediated Wnt pathway and binds Frizzled-6 CRD: functional implications of Wnt/beta-catenin activity in kidney epithelial cells.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


The Wnt signaling pathway is central to the development of all animals and to cancer progression, yet largely unknown are the pairings of secreted Wnt ligands to their respective Frizzled transmembrane receptors or, in many cases, the relative contributions of canonical (beta-catenin/LEF/TCF) versus noncanonical Wnt signals. Specifically, in the kidney where Wnt-4 is essential for the mesenchymal to epithelial transition that generates the tissue's collecting tubules, the corresponding Frizzled receptor(s) and downstream signaling mechanism(s) are unclear. In this report, we addressed these issues using Madin-Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cells, which are competent to form tubules in vitro. Employing established reporter constructs of canonical Wnt/beta-catenin pathway activity, we have determined that MDCK cells are highly responsive to Wnt-4, -1, and -3A, but not to Wnt-5A and control conditions, precisely reflecting functional findings from Wnt-4 null kidney mesenchyme ex vivo rescue studies. We have confirmed that Wnt-4's canonical signaling activity in MDCK cells is mediated by downstream effectors of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway using beta-Engrailed and dnTCF-4 constructs that suppress this pathway. We have further found that MDCK cells express the Frizzled-6 receptor and that Wnt-4 forms a biochemical complex with the Frizzled-6 CRD. Since Frizzled-6 did not appear to transduce Wnt-4's canonical signal, data supported recently by Golan et al., there presumably exists another as yet unknown Frizzled receptor(s) mediating Wnt-4 activation of beta-catenin/LEF/TCF. Finally, we report that canonical Wnt/beta-catenin signals cells help maintain cell growth and survival in MDCK cells but do not contribute to standard HGF-induced (nonphysiologic) tubule formation. Our results in combination with work from Xenopus laevis (not shown) lead us to believe that Wnt-4 binds both canonical and noncanonical Frizzled receptors, thereby activating Wnt signaling pathways that may each contribute to kidney tubulogenesis.

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