Background: Wnts are secreted proteins implicated in cell-cell interactions during embryogenesis and tumorigenesis, but receptors involved in transducing Wnt signals have not yet been definitively identified. Members of a large family of putative transmembrane receptors homologous to the frizzled protein in Drosophila have been identified recently in both vertebrates and invertebrates, raising the question of whether they are involved in transducing signals for any known signaling factors.
Results: To test the potential involvement of frizzled homologs in Wnt signaling, we examined the effects of overexpressing rat frizzled-1 (Rfz-1) on the subcellular distribution of Wnts and of dishevelled, a cytoplasmic component of the Wnt signalling pathway. We demonstrate that ectopic expression of Rfz-1 recruits the dishevelled proten-as well as Xenopus Wnt-8 (Xwnt-8), but not the functionally distinct Xwnt-5A-to the plasma membrane. Moreover, Rfz-1 is sufficient to induce the expression of two Xwnt-8-responsive genes, siamois and Xnr-3, in Xenopus explants in a manner which is antagonized by glycogen synthase kinase-3, which also antagonizes Wnt signaling. When Rfz-1 and Xwnt-8 are expressed together in this assay, we observe greater induction of these genes, indicating that Rfz-1 can synergize with a Wnt.
Conclusions: The results demonstrate that a vertebrate frizzled homolog is involved in Wnt signaling in a manner which discriminates between functionally distinct Wnts, which involves translocation of the dishevelled protein to the plasma membrane, and which works in a synergistic manner with Wnts to induce gene expression. These data support the likely function of frizzled homologs as Wnt receptors, or as components of a receptor complex.