WNT signaling is crucial for tissue morphogenesis during development in all multicellular animals. After birth, WNT/CTNNB1 responsive stem cells are responsible for tissue homeostasis in various organs and hyperactive WNT/CTNNB1 signaling is observed in many different human cancers. The first link between WNT signaling and breast cancer was established almost 40 years ago, when Wnt1 was identified as a proto-oncogene capable of driving mammary tumor formation in mice. Since that discovery, there has been a dedicated search for aberrant WNT signaling in human breast cancer. However, much debate and controversy persist regarding the importance of WNT signaling for the initiation, progression or maintenance of different breast cancer subtypes. As the first drugs designed to block functional WNT signaling have entered clinical trials, many questions about the role of aberrant WNT signaling in human breast cancer remain. Here, we discuss three major research gaps in this area. First, we still lack a basic understanding of the function of WNT signaling in normal human breast development and physiology. Second, the overall extent and precise effect of (epi)genetic changes affecting the WNT pathway in different breast cancer subtypes are still unknown. Which underlying molecular and cell biological mechanisms are disrupted as a result also awaits further scrutiny. Third, we survey the current status of targeted therapeutics that are aimed at interfering with the WNT pathway in breast cancer patients and highlight the importance and complexity of selecting the subset of patients that may benefit from treatment.
Keywords: beta-catenin; breast cancer; cancer stem cells; canonical Wnt signaling; mammary gland; non-canonical Wnt signaling; stem cells.
Copyright © 2020 van Schie and van Amerongen.
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