Background & aims: In the intestine, the canonical Wnt signaling cascade plays a crucial role in driving the proliferation of epithelial cells. Furthermore, aberrant activation of Wnt signaling is strongly associated with the development of colorectal cancer. Despite this evidence, little is known about the precise identity and localization of Wnts and their downstream effectors in the adult intestine. To address this issue, we examined the expression pattern of all Wnts, Frizzleds (Fzs), low-density lipoprotein receptor-related proteins, Wnt antagonists, and T-cell factors in the murine small intestine and colon and adenomas.
Methods: Embryonic, postnatal, and adult intestinal samples were subjected to in situ hybridization by using specific RNA probes for the various genes tested.
Results: Our analysis showed high expression of several signaling components (including Wnt-3, Wnt-6, Wnt-9b, Frizzled 4, Frizzled 6, Frizzled 7, low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5, and secreted Frizzled-related protein 5) in crypt epithelial cells. We also detected Wnt-2b, Wnt-4, Wnt-5a, Wnt-5b, Frizzled 4, and Frizzled 6 in differentiated epithelial and mesenchymal cells of the small intestine and colon. Finally, several factors (Frizzled 4, T-cell factor 1, lymphoid enhancer factor, Dickkopf 2, Dickkopf 3, and Wnt-interacting factor) displayed differential expression in normal vs neoplastic tissue.
Conclusions: Our study predicts a much broader role for Wnt signaling in gut development and homeostasis than was previously anticipated from available genetic studies and identifies novel factors likely involved in promoting canonical and noncanonical Wnt signals in the intestine.