Analysis of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in kidney tubulogenesis

Jon P Lyons, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The β-catenin/Lef/Tcf-mediated Wnt pathway is central to the developmental of all animals, stem cell renewal, and cancer progression. Prior studies in frogs and mice have indicated that the ligand Wnt-4 is essential for the mesenchyme to epithelial transition that generates tubules in the context of kidney organogenesis. More recently, Wnt-9b in mice, was likewise found to be required. Yet despite the importance of Wnt signals in renal development, the corresponding Frizzled receptor(s) and downstream signaling mechanim(s) are unclear. My work addresses these knowledge gaps using in vitro (Madin-Darby Canine Kidney cells) and in vivo (Xenopus laevis and zebrafish pronephros) tubulogenic kidney model systems. Employing established reporter constructs of Wnt/β-catenin pathway activity, I have determined that MDCK cells are highly responsive to Wnt-4, -1, and -3A, but not to Wnt-5A and control conditions. I have confirmed that Wnt-4's canonical signaling activity in MDCK cells is mediated by downstream effectors of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway using β-Engrailed and dnTCF-4, constructs that suppress this pathway. I have further found that MDCK cells express the Frizzled-6 receptor, and that Wnt-4 forms a biochemical complex with Frizzled-6, yet does not appear to transduce Wnt-4's canonical signal. Additionally, I demonstrate that standard Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF)-mediated (non-physiologic) induction of MDCK tubulogenesis in collagen matrices is not altered by activation or suppression of β-catenin signaling activity; however, β-catenin signaling maintains cell survival in this in vitro system. Using a Wnt/β-catenin signaling reporter in Xenopus laevis, I detect β-catenin signaling activity in the early pronephric epithelial kidney tubules. By inhibiting the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway in both zebrafish and Xenopus , a significant loss of kidney tubulogenesis is observed with little or no effect on adjoining axis or somite development. This inhibition also leads to the appearance of severe edema that phenocopies embryos depleted for Wnt-4. Tubulogenic loss does not appear to be caused by increased cell death in the Xenopus pronephric field, but rather by lessened expression of tubule epithelium genes associated with cellular differentiation. Together, my results show that Wnt/β-catenin signaling is required for renal tubule development and that Wnt-4 is a strong candidate for activating this pathway.

Subject Area

Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Lyons, Jon P, "Analysis of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in kidney tubulogenesis" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3249201.