2012 Group 5 Project
|2012 Projects: Group 1 | Group 2 | Group 3 | Group 4 | Group 5 | Group 6 | Group 7 | Group 8 | Group 9|
- 1 Wnt/β-catenin Signalling Pathway
- 2 Normal function
- 3 Abnormal Function: Diseases associated with Wnt/β-catenin signalling
- 4 Treatment:
- 5 Current research
- 6 Future directions
Wnt/β-catenin Signalling Pathway
2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the identification of Wnt-1, the first component of the Wnt signaling pathway to be discovered. Since this breakthrough, researchers from around the globe have extensively studied and pieced together the multiple components that form the Wnt signaling pathway as it is known and accepted today.
The classical pathway of Wnt signalling that is best understood in current research is the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway which features heavily in development, regeneration, stem cell regulation and cellular processes such as proliferation and migration.
Wnt proteins encompass a network of secreted glycolipoproteins, forming the basis of this highly conserved pathway. The various elements, agonists and antagonists of this pathway will be discussed, with key emphasis on the structure and function.
Furthermore, mutations in components of this pathway have been associated with cancers, developmental defects and other diseases which will be discussed in further detail.
It is important to note that the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway is becoming increasingly complex with the addition of new molecules being discovered in recent years. Areas of current research and future directions will also be outlined.
1973: A mutant of Drosophila melanogaster which had no wings was characterised as Wingless (Wg) 
1982: Roel Nusse and Harold Varmus found that mouse mammary tumour virus (MMTV) stimulated tumour formation when the Int1 (integration 1) gene was activated.
1991: The nomenclature of Wingless and Int-1 was combined to form the mnemonic, Wnt.
1994: Mutations in Dishevelled affected phenotype and gene expression, indicating its crucial role in the Wnt signalling pathway
1996: β-catenin levels were reported to be three times higher in tumour tissues than in normal specimens, indicating the link between β-catenin accumulation and colorectal cancers
1997: Huber et al investigates the three dimensional structure of β-catenin
1999: Casein kinase 1 (CK1) was found to regulate β-catenin function 
2003: The tyrosine kinase receptor Derailed in Drosophila (RYK in mammals) was identified as an alternative Wnt receptor 
2007: Dishevelled was found to polymerize at the plasma membrane and to recruit axin upon Wnt stimulation 
Key players in Wnt/β-catenin signalling
|Wnt (WNT)||250px||Evolutionarily conserved protein across species. Most Wnt proteins figure in the region of 40 kDa, each possessing a characteristic 23 or 24 cysteine residues highly conserved in their spacing. This suggests that the formation of ‘‘‘disulfide bonds’’’ plays a significant role in determining tertiary protein structure||Initiates Wnt signalling when it binds as a ‘‘‘ligand’’’ to the ‘‘‘Fz’’’ receptor with ‘‘‘LRP’’’  and destabilises the β-catenin degradation complex, dephosphorylating β-catenin and subsequently enabling its migration and accumulation in the cell nucleus for gene transcription ||
|‘Fz ' (FZD)||150px||‘‘‘Fz’’’ houses a ‘‘‘CRD’’’ on the ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’, seven transmembrane domains, and a ‘‘‘PDZ domain’’’ on the ‘‘‘C-terminus’’’ ||Binds the Wnt ‘‘‘ligand’’’ at the extracellular ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ for the initiation of the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway|
|‘LRP-5/6' (LRP)||250px||A protein that spans multiple domains. The extracellular component is comprised of four EGF-like repeats on the ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ ||Co-receptor to the Wnt ‘‘‘ligand’’’ in its interaction with the ‘‘‘Fz’’’ receptor in signal transduction. Causes translocation and association of axin to its intracellular tail, thus destabilising the β-catenin binding activity of axin|
|‘Dsh ' (DVL)||250px||Prevents phosphorylatory activity of ‘‘‘GSK-3β’’’ upon hyperphosphorylation by the Wnt/’‘‘LRP-5/6’’’ complex binding to the ‘‘‘Fz’’’ receptor, thus preventing β-catenin ubiquitination and degradation, to promote translocation into the nucleus.||
|Axin (AXIN)||250px||In the absence of Wnt signalling, it constitutes the β-catenin ubiquitination complex along with ‘‘‘APC’’’ and ‘‘‘GSK-3β’’’  and its role as a ‘‘‘scaffolding protein’’’ enhances ‘‘‘GSK-3β’’’ phosphorylation of β-catenin|
|‘GSK-3β ' (GSK3β)||250px||Constitutes the β-catenin ubiquitination complex along with axin and ‘‘‘APC’’’ ; its primary role in the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway is inhibition of β-catenin nuclear translocation through phosphorylation of three amino acids at the ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ after priming by ‘‘‘CK-I’’’ , for subsequent ubiquitination and degradation by the ‘‘‘’’’proteasome’’’. This activity is enhanced by ‘‘‘GSK-3β’’’ phosphorylation of axin and ‘‘‘APC’’’  which appears to promote phosphorylation of β-catenin by ‘‘‘GSK-3β’’’ in the complex.|
|Diversin||Primes b-catenin for degradation by recruiting CK-I to phosphorylate serine 45 on the ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ before subsequent phosphorylation of threonine 41, serine 37 and serine 33 by GSK-b and degradation by E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP|
|‘APC ' (APC)||150px||A large 312 kDa protein||Possesses a numerous and varied set of roles ranging from cell migration and adhesion, cell cycle regulation and chromosome stability. In the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway, ‘‘‘APC’’’ constitutes the β-catenin ubiquitination complex along with axin and ‘‘‘GSK-3β’’’ . It binds to axin via ‘‘‘SAMP’’’ elements, and to β-catenin via three 15-amino acid repeats and seven 20-amino acid repeats|
|β-catenin (CTNNB1)||The ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ accommodates a critical sequence of thirteen armadillo repeats that competitively bind E-cadherin, ‘‘‘LEF-1’’’ and ‘‘‘APC’’’ . The ‘‘‘C-terminus’’’ houses a glycine-rich transactivation domain||Involved in mediating both ‘‘‘morphogenesis’’’ and maintenance of tissue integrity in the endothelium, bound to a-catenin that subsequently binds to the actin cytoskeleton. Gene expression is mediated in conjunction with ‘‘‘TCF /LEF’’’, upon translocation from the cytosol into the nucleus|
|TCF /LEF (TCF7/LEF)||The ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ constitutes the β-catenin interaction domain; ‘‘‘TCF /LEF’’’ also possesses a ‘‘‘HMG’’’ box DNA-binding domain||Mediates DNA binding when in complex with β-catenin; the ‘‘‘N-terminus’’’ of ‘‘‘TCF /LEF’’’ associates with the β-catenin ‘‘‘C-terminus’’’ |
Mechanism of action
- β-catenin commonly exists as a subunit making up the cadherin protein complex, where it links E-cadherin to α-catenin 
- Cadherin proteins play an integral role in the formation of adhesion junctions between cells 
- β-catenin also acts to help anchor the actin cytoskeleton within the cell 
- The β-catenin gene can be said to function as an oncogene given that the promotion of transcription of Wnt target genes by β-catenin has been shown to be involved in the development of an array of cancers including basal cell carcinoma, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
In the absence of Wnt (“off state”)
- No extracellular "Wnt signal"
- β-catenin targeted for proteosomal degradation by its incorporation into a “destruction complex” comprising:
- APC and axin assemble into a structural scaffold, allowing the phosphorylation of the N-terminal of β-catenin by the coordinated action of CK1 and GSK-3β
- β-catenin is recognised by E3 ligase β-Trcp, ubiquinated and subsequently degraded by the 26S proteosome 
- Level of β-catenin in the cytosol is low, and therefore does not reach the nucleus at a level sufficient enough to affect transcription
- No transcription of Wnt target genes
In the presence of Wnt (“on state”)
- Extracellular “Wnt signal” binds to a cell surface G-protein coupled receptor of the “Frizzled” (FRZ) family
- Low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein (LRP) family functions as a transmembrane co-receptor for FRZ
- Activation (phosphorylation and poly-ubiquination) of proteins of the “Dishevelled” (Dsh) family
- With the complex now interrupted, β-catenin resists ubiquination and reaches the nucleus in increased levels where it functions as a transcriptional enhancer alongside TCF
- TCF promotes binding of RNA polymerase to DNA template strand
- Induction of the downstream transcription of Wnt target genes, for example:
- In a tumour cell, the Wnt siganalling pathway is activated abberantly either:
- Innappropriately by an extracellular Wnt signal
- In the absence of an extracellular Wnt signal
- Usually results from a mutation in one of the subunits that comprise the “destruction complex”, resulting in an inability to degrade cytosolic β-catenin 
- Mutant APC proteins characteristic of those associated with cancer, have been shown to upregulate transcription of Wnt target genes due to an inability to regulate levels of cytosolic and nuclear β-catenin 
Role of Wnt/β-catenin signalling in embryonic development
The Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway has been implicated as an important pathway in human fetal development. Through immunohistochemical staining, Eberhart and Argani (2001) localised nuclear beta catenin in fetal lung, placenta, kidney, cartilage, capillaries, adrenal glands and skin. This indicates that Wnt signaling regulates the development of specific set of organs and tissues. For example, Wnt genes such as Wnt4 regulate the conversion of mesenchyme to epithelial cells in kidney morphogenesis.
In addition, Wnt/β-catenin signaling is also involved in maintaining the pluripotency of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Wnt3a promotes the reprogramming of somatic cells to pluripotency in conjunction with the classical transcription factors, Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog. For example, Oct4 has the effect of repressing Wnt/β-catenin signaling in self renewing hESCs and is depressed during hESC differentiation. Hence, this suggests that Wnt/β-catenin signaling is involved in differentiation rather than self renewal.
Abnormal Function: Diseases associated with Wnt/β-catenin signalling
As described above, the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway plays a critical role in development, stem cell regulation and cellular processes such as proliferation and migration. Thus mutations in components of this pathway have been associated with cancers, hereditary disorders, developmental defects and other diseases.
Wnt/β-catenin Pathway and the Onset of Cancer
The high number of repressor genes involved in the Wnt/β-catenin pathway indicates that it is imperative for this pathway to be tightly regulated.  These repressor genes include APC, Axin 1 and Axin 2. Given the pathways involvements in the regulation of stem cell choice to proliferate or self renew, there is a strong correlation between mutations in these genes and the onset of cancer. The table below describes in further detail some mutations of the Wnt signalling pathway and associated cancers.
Mutations of the Wnt signalling pathway and associated cancers
|Gene||Normal function||Effects of mutation||Associated cancers |
|β-catenin||Primary Wnt effector. Acts as an oncogene.||In the nucleus, β-catenin functions as a cofactor for TCF transcription factors which specify a subset of genes, such as cyclin D1 and c-MYC, which are responsible for determining cell fate and regulation of proliferation.  Any mutations that inhibit its destruction motif would cause constitutively active β-catenin signalling, leading to excessive stem cell renewal and proliferation thus predisposing the cells to the formation of tumours. ||
|APC||Facilitates β-catenin degradation; acts as a tumour suppressor||Mutational inactivation of APC inhibits degradation of β-catenin, leading to the over-stabilisation and accumulation of β-catenin in the nucleus of the cell.  (See β-catenin above).
|Axin 1 & Axin 2||Serve as scaffolding components for the β-catenin degradation complex. Acts as a tumour suppressor.||Mutational inactivation of Axin 1 or Axin 2 inhibits degradation of β-catenin, leading to the over-stabilisation and accumulation of β-catenin in the nucleus of the cell.||
For a comprehensive list of human diseases associated with mutations of the Wnt signalling components, please refer to Table 1 in the following article: Wnt/β-catenin signaling: components, mechanisms, and diseases
There is a large focus on finding more effective means of treating and preventing cancer. Current researchers are looking at inhibiting various components of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway to prevent the proliferation of cancer. Such treatments include:
- Small molecule inhibitors can be used to block the interaction between β-catenin and TCF, thus preventing constitutive transcriptional activities that lead to the proliferation of cancer. 
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) function by interfering with β-catenin/TFC-dependent transcription, and have proven promising for the treatment and prevention of colorectal cancers.  Examples of NSAIDs include exisulind, sulindac and aspirin. The success of NSAIDs was measured, indicating a "40-50% reduction in mortality due to CRC in indicidulas taking NSAIDs". Furthermore, studies are being conducted into the use of NSAIDs to inhibit coclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) as an effective method of treatment and prevention of cancers. 
- Frizzled-related proteins can be used as natural antagonists to manage the Wnt pathway.
- A “recombinant adenovirus (Ad-CBR) that constitutively expresses the β-catenin binding domain of APC”  was developed, enabling APC to maintain its function of β-catenin degradation.
- Monoclonal antibodies are being used against Wnt proteins by inducing apoptosis in cancer cells .
- What is the mode of translocation of β-catenin into the nucleus upon dissociating with axin?
- Elucidate the mechanism for the hyperphosphorylation of ‘‘‘Dsh’’’ by Wnt/’‘‘Fz /LRP-5/6 binding concurrent to, but mutually exclusive from, axin destabilisation
- The biochemical events connecting the components of the canonical Wnt pathway
- Production of purified Wnt proteins to assist with research
- Production of effective Wnt antibodies
- Structure of the Wnt1 protein
- Complete understanding of the routing and the coincident posttranslational modifications of Wnt proteins in the secreting cell
- The rules that dictate the movement of Wnt proteins between cells
- The biochemistry of the activities of the destruction complex
Taken from Wnt signaling: a common theme in animal development - the research outlined will be explored in the current literature
- How do the ‘‘‘Fz’’’ receptors work?
- What is ‘‘‘Dsh’’’ doing to transduce the signal?
- What is the relationship between ‘‘‘APC’’’ and Wnt signaling?
- How does Arm/β-catenin get into the nucleus?
List of Abbreviations Used
- APC: adenomatous polyposis coli
- CAMKII: Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II
- CK-I: casein kinase I
- CRD: cysteine rich domain
- Dsh: Dishevelled
- Fz: Frizzled
- GSK-3β: glycogen synthase kinase-3β
- HMG: high mobility group
- LEF: lymphoid enhancer-binding factor
- LRP: lipoprotein receptor–related protein
- Nkd: naked cuticle
- PKC: protein kinase C
- SAMP: Ser-Ala-Met-Pro repeated amino acid segment
- Stbm: strabismus
- TCF: T cell factor
List of Terminology
- agenesis: the inability to form an organ during embryogenesis due to the lack of primordial tissues
- agonist: a molecule which binds to a receptor to produce a physiological response
- antagonist: a molecule which inhibits the physiological function of another substance
- apoptosis: programmed cell death
- C-terminus: the end of the polypeptide chain which features a free carboxyl group (-COOH)
- canonical: standard and well accepted
- destruction motif: short sequences which provide stability of other proteins when deleted or mutated
- differentiation: the process by which cells become mature and specialised in structure and function
- disulfide bonds: a covalent bond between sulfur atoms
- gain of function mutation: mutation produces a protein which has an enhanced or abnormal function
- glycolipoprotein: a protein with attached lipid and carbohydrate groups
- homeotic gene: genes involved in embryonic development, specifically controlled the anterior-posterior axis
- histone deacetylation: the process by which histone deacetylase removes acetyl groups on the histones to increase affinity and condense DNA, thus preventing transcription
- homolog: gene which is related to another gene by common descent
- immunohistochemistry: detecting antigens on a tissue using labelled antibodies
- immunoprecipitation: the process of isolating a protein antigen using an antibody that binds to it to form an insoluble complex
- lethal mutation: a mutation which can result in the death of the organism
- ligand: a molecule which binds to another entity
- loss of function mutation: mutation produces a protein which has decreased or no function
- mnemonic: a tool which assists memory
- monoclonal antibody: an antibody engineered from a single clone of cells
- morphogenesis: the differentiation and growth of tissues and organs during embryo development
- N-terminus: the start of the polypeptide chain which features a free amine group (-NH2)
- oncogene: genes which transform normal cells into cancerous cells
- pluripotency: the ability of stem cells to differentiate into ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm
- PDZ domain: a common structural domain of 80-90 amino acids of signalling proteins, whose name is derived from the first three letters of the first three proteins to be discovered to share the domain: post synaptic density protein, Drosophila disc large tumor suppressor, zonula occludens-1 protein
- proteasome: a large intracellular particle which degrades proteins
- repressor: a protein which binds to the operator and prevents transcription
- self renewal: the capability to undergo numerous cell divisions and maintain undifferentiation
- sequester: to isolate or separate
- scaffolding protein: proteins which regulate signal transduction by organising and assembling signalling complexes
- tumour suppressor gene: produces proteins which control cell growth to prevent uncontrolled cell proliferation
- ubiquitylation: the process of adding ubiquitin
- Hubrecht Institute: Wnt signaling and cancer
- Children's Hospital Boston: Wnt signaling in development
- University of Pennsylvania: Wnt in developmental biology
- Stanford School of Medicine: Stem Cells, Wnt signaling and Tissue Repair
- University of Nebraska: Convergence of Wnt and PKA signaling
- Centre for Cancer Research: The Role of Wnts in Vertebrate Development and Cancer
- Sharma RP Wingless, a new mutant in D.melanogaster. Drosoph. Inf. Serv: 1973, 50;134