Background: Canonical Wnt/beta-catenin signalling regulates self-renewal and lineage selection within the mammalian epidermis. Although the transcriptional response of keratinocytes that receive a Wnt signal is well characterized, little is known about the mechanism by which keratinocytes in proximity to the Wnt-receiving cell are co-opted to undergo a change in cell fate.
Results: To address this, we perform single-cell RNA-sequencing on mouse keratinocytes co-cultured with and without beta-catenin-activated neighbouring cells. We identify five distinct cell states in cultures that had not been exposed to the beta-catenin stimulus and show that the stimulus redistributes wild-type subpopulation proportions. Using temporal single-cell analysis, we reconstruct the cell fate change induced by Wnt activation from neighbouring cells. Gene expression heterogeneity is reduced in neighbouring cells and this effect is most dramatic for protein synthesis-associated genes. Changes in gene expression are accompanied by a shift to a more proliferative stem cell state. By integrating imaging and reconstructed sequential gene expression changes during the state transition we identify transcription factors, including Smad4 and Bcl3, that are responsible for effecting the transition in a contact-dependent manner.
Conclusions: Our data indicate that non-cell autonomous Wnt/beta-catenin signalling decreases transcriptional heterogeneity. This furthers our understanding of how epidermal Wnt signalling orchestrates regeneration and self-renewal.