Characterization of the molecular pathways controlling differentiation and proliferation in mammalian hair follicles is central to our understanding of the regulation of normal hair growth, the basis of hereditary hair loss diseases, and the origin of follicle-based tumors. We demonstrate that the proto-oncogene Wnt3, which encodes a secreted paracrine signaling molecule, is expressed in developing and mature hair follicles and that its overexpression in transgenic mouse skin causes a short-hair phenotype due to altered differentiation of hair shaft precursor cells, and cyclical balding resulting from hair shaft structural defects and associated with an abnormal profile of protein expression in the hair shaft. A putative effector molecule for WNT3 signaling, the cytoplasmic protein Dishevelled 2 (DVL2), is normally present at high levels in a subset of cells in the outer root sheath and in precursor cells of the hair shaft cortex and cuticle which lie immediately adjacent to Wnt3-expressing cells. Overexpression of Dvl2 in the outer root sheath mimics the short-hair phenotype produced by overexpression of Wnt3, supporting the hypothesis that Wnt3 and Dvl2 have the potential to act in the same pathway in the regulation of hair growth. These experiments demonstrate a previously unrecognized role for WNT signaling in the control of hair growth and structure, as well as presenting the first example of a mammalian phenotype resulting from overexpression of a Dvl gene and providing an accessible in vivo system for analysis of mammalian WNT signaling pathways.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.