Differential WNT activity in colorectal cancer confers limited tumorigenic potential and is regulated by MAPK signaling

Cancer Res. 2012 Mar 15;72(6):1547-56. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-11-3222. Epub 2012 Feb 8.


Colorectal cancers (CRC) express the WNT effector protein β-catenin in a heterogeneous subcellular pattern rather than uniformly in the nucleus. In this study, we investigated this important aspect of molecular heterogeneity in CRCs by analyzing its basis and relationship with tumor-initiating capability. CRC cells with the highest WNT levels showed only a marginal increase in tumor initiation capacity. Notably, high WNT activity correlated with a coincident activation of robust mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling, which when upregulated by KRAS expression or downregulated by epidermal growth factor receptor inhibition elicited parallel effects on WNT activity. These findings suggested that on its own high WNT activity may not be a reliable signifier of tumor-initiating potential or stem-like potential. Furthermore, they suggest that MAPK signaling is a critical modifier of intratumoral heterogeneity that contributes significantly to determining the impact of WNT activity on stemness phenotypes in colon cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • Wnt Proteins
  • beta Catenin