Synaptic Wnt signaling-a contributor to major psychiatric disorders?

J Neurodev Disord. 2011 Jun;3(2):162-74. doi: 10.1007/s11689-011-9083-6. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


Wnt signaling is a key pathway that helps organize development of the nervous system. It influences cell proliferation, cell fate, and cell migration in the developing nervous system, as well as axon guidance, dendrite development, and synapse formation. Given this wide range of roles, dysregulation of Wnt signaling could have any number of deleterious effects on neural development and thereby contribute in many different ways to the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders. Some major psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorders, are coming to be understood as subtle dysregulations of nervous system development, particularly of synapse formation and maintenance. This review will therefore touch on the importance of Wnt signaling to neurodevelopment generally, while focusing on accumulating evidence for a synaptic role of Wnt signaling. These observations will be discussed in the context of current understanding of the neurodevelopmental bases of major psychiatric diseases, spotlighting schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. In short, this review will focus on the potential role of synapse formation and maintenance in major psychiatric disorders and summarize evidence that defective Wnt signaling could contribute to their pathogenesis via effects on these late neural differentiation processes.