Lab Invest. 2016 February
The evolving roles of canonical WNT signaling in stem cells and tumorigenesis: implications in targeted cancer therapies
The canonical WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway governs a myriad of biological processes underlying the development and maintenance of adult tissue homeostasis, including regulation of stem cell self-renewal, cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. WNTs are secreted lipid-modified glycoproteins that act as short-range ligands to activate receptor-mediated signaling pathways. The hallmark of the canonical pathway is the activation of β-catenin-mediated transcriptional activity. Canonical WNTs control the β-catenin dynamics as the cytoplasmic level of β-catenin is tightly regulated via phosphorylation by the ‘destruction complex’, consisting of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), casein kinase 1α (CK1α), the scaffold protein AXIN, and the tumor suppressor adenomatous polyposis coli (APC).
Aberrant regulation of this signaling cascade is associated with varieties of human diseases, especially cancers. Over the past decade, significant progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms of canonical WNT signaling. In this review, we focus on the current understanding of WNT signaling at the extracellular, cytoplasmic membrane, and intracellular/nuclear levels, including the emerging knowledge of cross-talk with other pathways. Recent progresses in developing novel WNT pathway-targeted therapies will also be reviewed. Thus, this review is intended to serve as a refresher of the current understanding about the physiologic and pathogenic roles of WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway, and to outline potential therapeutic opportunities by targeting the canonical WNT pathway.