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Investigating the Mechanism of a Multi-State Model of WNT Signaling

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The WNT signaling pathway plays numerous roles in development and maintenance of adult homeostasis. In concordance with it’s numerous roles, dysfunction of WNT signaling leads to a variety of human diseases ranging from developmental disorders to cancer. WNT signaling is

The WNT signaling pathway plays numerous roles in development and maintenance of adult homeostasis. In concordance with it’s numerous roles, dysfunction of WNT signaling leads to a variety of human diseases ranging from developmental disorders to cancer. WNT signaling is composed of a family of 19 WNT soluble secreted glycoproteins, which are evolutionarily conserved across all phyla of the animal kingdom. WNT ligands interact most commonly with a family of receptors known as frizzled (FZ) receptors, composed of 10 independent genes. Specific interactions between WNT proteins and FZ receptors are not well characterized and are known to be promiscuous, Traditionally canonical WNT signaling is described as a binary system in which WNT signaling is either off or on. In the ‘off’ state, in the absence of a WNT ligand, cytoplasmic β-catenin is continuously degraded by the action of the APC/Axin/GSK-3β destruction complex. In the ‘on’ state, when WNT binds to its Frizzled (Fz) receptor and LRP coreceptor, this protein destruction complex is disrupted, allowing β-catenin to translocate into the nucleus where it interacts with the DNA-bound T cell factor/lymphoid factor (TCF/LEF) family of proteins to regulate target gene expression. However in a variety of systems in development and disease canonical WNT signaling acts in a gradient fashion, suggesting more complex regulation of β-catenin transcriptional activity. As such, the traditional ‘binary’ view of WNT signaling does not clearly explain how this graded signal is transmitted intracellularly to control concentration-dependent changes in gene expression and cell identity. I have developed an in vitro human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-based model that recapitulates the same in vivo developmental effects of the WNT signaling gradient on the anterior-posterior (A/P) patterning of the neural tube observed during early development. Using RNA-seq and ChIP-seq I have characterized β-catenin binding at different levels of WNT signaling and identified different classes of β-catenin peaks that bind cis-regulatory elements to influence neural cell fate. This work expands the traditional binary view of canonical WNT signaling and illuminates WNT/β-catenin activity in other developmental and diseased contexts.

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2019