Stabilization of beta-catenin by inhibition of its phosphorylation is characteristic of an activation of the canonical Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway and is associated with various human carcinomas. It contrasts to an as yet incompletely characterized action of an alternative noncanonical Wnt signaling pathway on neoplastic transformation. The aim of the present study was to test the effects of a member of the noncanonical Wnt signaling pathway, Wnt-5a, in primary thyroid carcinomas and in thyroid carcinoma cell lines. Compared to normal tissue Wnt-5a mRNA expression was clearly increased in thyroid carcinomas. Immunohistochemically, a bell-shaped response was observed with low to undetectable levels in normal tissue and in anaplastic tumors whereas differentiated thyroid carcinomas showed strong positive immunostaining for Wnt-5a. Transfection of Wnt-5a in a thyroid tumor cell line FTC-133 was able to reduce proliferation, migration, invasiveness and clonogenicity in these cells. These effects of Wnt-5a are associated with membranous beta-catenin translocation and c-myc oncogene suppression and are mediated through an increase in intracellular Ca(2+) release, which via CaMKII pathways promotes beta-catenin phosphorylation. Specific inhibition of beta-catenin phosphorylation by W-7, a calmodulin inhibitor, or by KN-93, a CaMKII inhibitor, supports these findings whereas PKC inhibitors were without effect. This interaction occurs downstream of GSK-3 beta as no Wnt-5a effect was seen on the Ser(9) phosphorylation of GSK-3 beta. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that Wnt-5a serves as an antagonist to the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway with tumor suppressor activity in differentiated thyroid carcinomas.