A hidden oncogenic positive feedback loop caused by crosstalk between Wnt and ERK pathways

Oncogene. 2007 Jul 5;26(31):4571-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1210230. Epub 2007 Jan 22.


The Wnt and the extracellular signal regulated-kinase (ERK) pathways are both involved in the pathogenesis of various kinds of cancers. Recently, the existence of crosstalk between Wnt and ERK pathways was reported. Gathering all reported results, we have discovered a positive feedback loop embedded in the crosstalk between the Wnt and ERK pathways. We have developed a plausible model that represents the role of this hidden positive feedback loop in the Wnt/ERK pathway crosstalk based on the integration of experimental reports and employing established basic mathematical models of each pathway. Our analysis shows that the positive feedback loop can generate bistability in both the Wnt and ERK signaling pathways, and this prediction was further validated by experiments. In particular, using the commonly accepted assumption that mutations in signaling proteins contribute to cancerogenesis, we have found two conditions through which mutations could evoke an irreversible response leading to a sustained activation of both pathways. One condition is enhanced production of beta-catenin, the other is a reduction of the velocity of MAP kinase phosphatase(s). This enables that high activities of Wnt and ERK pathways are maintained even without a persistent extracellular signal. Thus, our study adds a novel aspect to the molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis by showing that mutational changes in individual proteins can cause fundamental functional changes well beyond the pathway they function in by a positive feedback loop embedded in crosstalk. Thus, crosstalk between signaling pathways provides a vehicle through which mutations of individual components can affect properties of the system at a larger scale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Signal Transduction*
  • TCF Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism*
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • TCF Transcription Factors
  • Wnt Proteins
  • beta Catenin
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases