The Wnts can be classified into two classes based on their ability to transform cells. The Wnt5a class can antagonize the effects of transforming Wnts partly through effects on cell migration. To understand the mechanisms of regulation of Wnt5a, we investigated its expression in human normal and breast cancer cell lines. Elevation of Wnt5a in HB2, a normal breast epithelial cell line, was linearly correlated with cell density, but this did not occur in cancer cell lines. We examined intracellular events responsible for the regulation of Wnt5a by cell to cell contacts, using various metabolic agents known to affect signal transduction pathways. Agents that selectively blocked protein kinase C (calphostin C) or protein tyrosine kinases (genistein) reduced the level of Wnt5a expression markedly. Protein kinase C activation by phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate up-regulated Wnt5a partly through prolongation of Wnt5a mRNA half-life. Cytoskeleton reorganization following cytochalasin D treatment caused an induction of Wnt5a, which was associated with changes in cell morphology. Calphostin C did not block these effects, showing that protein kinase C is acting upstream of cytoskeletal modulation. However, the cancer cell lines treated with cytochalasin D showed no changes in cell morphology or Wnt5a induction, suggesting disruption of this regulatory pathway in cancer.