Role of Wnts in prostate cancer bone metastases

J Cell Biochem. 2006 Mar 1;97(4):661-72. doi: 10.1002/jcb.20735.


Prostate cancer (CaP) is unique among all cancers in that when it metastasizes to bone, it typically forms osteoblastic lesions (characterized by increased bone production). CaP cells produce many factors, including Wnts that are implicated in tumor-induced osteoblastic activity. In this prospectus, we describe our research on Wnt and the CaP bone phenotype. Wnts are cysteine-rich glycoproteins that mediate bone development in the embryo and promote bone production in the adult. Wnts have been shown to have autocrine tumor effects, such as enhancing proliferation and protecting against apoptosis. In addition, we have recently identified that CaP-produced Wnts act in a paracrine fashion to induce osteoblastic activity in CaP bone metastases. In addition to Wnts, CaP cells express the soluble Wnt inhibitor dickkopf-1 (DKK-1). It appears that DKK-1 production occurs early in the development of skeletal metastases, which results in masking of osteogenic Wnts, thus favoring osteolysis at the metastatic site. As metastases progress, DKK-1 expression decreases allowing for unmasking of Wnt's osteoblastic activity and ultimately resulting in osteosclerosis at the metastatic site. We believe that DKK-1 is one of the switches that transitions the CaP bone metastasis activity from osteolytic to osteoblastic. Wnt/DKK-1 activity fits a model of CaP-induced bone remodeling occurring in a continuum composed of an osteolytic phase, mediated by receptor activator of NFkB ligand (RANKL), parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHRP) and DKK-1; a transitional phase, where environmental alterations promote expression of osteoblastic factors (Wnts) and decreases osteolytic factors (i.e., DKK-1); and an osteoblastic phase, in which tumor growth-associated hypoxia results in production of vascular endothelial growth factor and endothelin-1, which have osteoblastic activity. This model suggests that targeting both osteolytic activity and osteoblastic activity will provide efficacy for therapy of CaP bone metastases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Bone Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Carcinoma / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteogenesis
  • Osteolysis / pathology
  • Osteosclerosis / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism*


  • DKK1 protein, human
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Wnt Proteins