Wnt4 coordinates directional cell migration and extension of the Müllerian duct essential for ontogenesis of the female reproductive tract

Hum Mol Genet. 2016 Mar 15;25(6):1059-73. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddv621. Epub 2015 Dec 31.


The Müllerian duct (MD) is the anlage of the oviduct, uterus and upper part of the vagina, the main parts of the female reproductive tract. Several wingless-type mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) integration site family member (Wnt) genes, including Wnt4, Wnt5a and Wnt7a, are involved in the development of MD and its derivatives, with Wnt4 particularly critical, since the MD fails to develop in its absence. We use, here, Wnt4(EGFPCre)-based fate mapping to demonstrate that the MD tip cells and the subsequent MD cells are derived from Wnt4+ lineage cells. Moreover, Wnt4 is required for the initiation of MD-forming cell migration. Application of anti-Wnt4 function-blocking antibodies after the initiation of MD elongation indicated that Wnt4 is necessary for the elongation as well, and consistent with this, cell culture wound-healing assays with NIH3T3 cells overexpressing Wnt4 promoted cell migration by comparison with controls. In contrast to the Wnt4 null embryos, some Wnt4(monomeric cherry/monomeric cherry) (Wnt4(mCh/mCh)) hypomorphic mice survived to adulthood and formed MD in ∼45% of cases. Nevertheless, the MD of the Wnt4(mCh/mCh) females had altered cell polarization and basement membrane deposition relative to the controls. Examination of the reproductive tract of the Wnt4(mCh/mCh) females indicated a poorly coiled oviduct, absence of the endometrial glands and an undifferentiated myometrium, and these mice were prone to develop a hydro-uterus. In conclusion, the results suggest that the Wnt4 gene encodes signals that are important for various aspects of female reproductive tract development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Movement / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mullerian Ducts / cytology
  • Mullerian Ducts / metabolism*
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Reproduction
  • Uterus / metabolism
  • Wnt4 Protein / genetics
  • Wnt4 Protein / metabolism*


  • WNT4 protein, human
  • Wnt4 Protein
  • Wnt4 protein, mouse