Saturday, June 16, 2007

News dump: the Wnt signaling pathway

Here's one of the interesting things about biology: sometimes small number of genes, present in a large number of animal species, can affect a very diverse range of biological processes – including a number we'd like to have better control over.

In this case, we're concerned with a family of about 19 related genes, called Wnt. Genes of this family code for proteins that are important in embryonic development. They also play an important role in the regeneration of body parts, in those species where such regeneration has been known to be possible – and perhaps someday even in humans.

Here are some recent news releases on the topic, most recent first.


Rare Mutation Causes Early Heart Disease And Metabolic Syndrome (3/14/07)
A very rare mutation of the LRP6 gene, whose protein affects the Wnt signaling pathway, has been found to cause high rates of early-onset coronary artery disease in a family that carries the mutation. Family members having the mutation were also at greater risk for other components of metabolic syndrome, as well as osteoporosis.

How Does A Zebrafish Grow A New Tail? The Answer May Help Treat Human Injuries (12/28/06)
Signaling pathways involving various Wnt proteins and Beta-catenin have been shown to control the regeneration of the fins of zebrafish. Some Wnt/Beta-catenin signals promote fin regeneration. A different pathway involving Wnt5b inhibits regeneration so it doesn't get out of hand. But a mutant form of Wnt5b speeds up regeneration, while an excess of Wnt8 also increases cell proliferation.

Researchers Discover Initial Steps In Development Of Taste (12/6/06)
Researchers have shown that Wnt signaling pathways regulates the development of taste buds in mice. They have also determined that Wnt proteins are required for hooking up the wiring of taste signals to the brain.

Control Mechanism For Biological Pattern Formation Decoded (11/30/06)
Using a mathematical model based on protein reactions and diffusions, researchers have been able to explain the dynamics and parameters of hair formation in mice, based on Wnt signaling.

Scientists Regenerate Wing In Chick Embryo (11/19/06)
This research provides direct evidence that limb regeneration in (some) vertebrates is affected by the Wnt signaling system. By activating Wnt signaling scientists were able to stimulate wing regeneration in chick embryos (where it does not normally occur), and by deactivating Wnt signaling in frogs, zebrafish, and salamanders it was possible to prevent regeneration of missing legs and tails.

Adult Stem Cells May Be Just Remnants Of Evolution (11/2/05)
At least some adult stem cells could be the mere remnants of former embryonal differentiation processes. In this research mesenchymal stem cells of mice we stimulated by Wnt signaling, but their transformation into muscle cells was not complete.

Wnt Signaling Controls The Fate Of Stem Cells In Adult Brains (10/31/05)
The Wnt3 protein affects whether neural stem cells in mice, upon division, continue as stem cell, become neurons, or become support cells, such as astrocytes or oligodendrocytes.

Prostate Cancer Uses Wnt Signaling Proteins To Promote Growth Of Bone Tumors (9/7/05)
Some Wnt proteins play a central role in regulating normal skeletal development in an embryo, but they may also be hijacked by prostate cancer cells to spread the cancer into bone tissue.

Mice With Hyperactive Gene Eat All They Want, But Have Half The Body Fat Of Normal Mice (6/30/04)
When the protein Wnt10b is present in artificially high amounts in fat tissue of experimental mice, the mice appear to be able to eat as much as they like without an increase in body fat.


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