Both Canonical and Non-Canonical Wnt Signaling Independently Promote Stem Cell Growth in MammospheresReport as inadecuate

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The characterization of mammary stem cells, and signals that regulate their behavior, is of central importance in understanding developmental changes in the mammary gland and possibly for targeting stem-like cells in breast cancer. The canonical Wnt-β-catenin pathway is a signaling mechanism associated with maintenance of self-renewing stem cells in many tissues, including mammary epithelium, and can be oncogenic when deregulated. Wnt1 and Wnt3a are examples of ligands that activate the canonical pathway. Other Wnt ligands, such as Wnt5a, typically signal via non-canonical, β-catenin-independent, pathways that in some cases can antagonize canonical signaling. Since the role of non-canonical Wnt signaling in stem cell regulation is not well characterized, we set out to investigate this using mammosphere formation assays that reflect and quantify stem cell properties. Ex vivo mammosphere cultures were established from both wild-type and Wnt1 transgenic mice and were analyzed in response to manipulation of both canonical and non-canonical Wnt signaling. An increased level of mammosphere formation was observed in cultures derived from MMTV-Wnt1 versus wild-type animals, and this was blocked by treatment with Dkk1, a selective inhibitor of canonical Wnt signaling. Consistent with this, we found that a single dose of recombinant Wnt3a was sufficient to increase mammosphere formation in wild-type cultures. Surprisingly, we found that Wnt5a also increased mammosphere formation in these assays. We confirmed that this was not caused by an increase in canonical Wnt-β-catenin signaling but was instead mediated by non-canonical Wnt signals requiring the receptor tyrosine kinase Ror2 and activity of the Jun N-terminal kinase, JNK. We conclude that both canonical and non-canonical Wnt signals have positive effects promoting stem cell activity in mammosphere assays and that they do so via independent signaling mechanisms.

Author: Alexander M. Many, Anthony M. C. Brown



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