Research shows that cytonems distribute Wnt proteins in vertebrate tissue

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Scientists have made a crucial breakthrough in understanding the way cells communicate with each other.

A team of international researchers, including experts from the Institute of Living Systems at the University of Exeter, have found that the signaling pathways of the Wnt protein – which orchestrate and control many cell development processes – act at both the molecular and cellular levels.

There are various mechanisms for cells to communicate with each other, and many are necessary for development. This exchange of information between cells is often based on signaling proteins that activate certain intracellular signaling cascades to control the behavior of cells remotely.

Wnt proteins are produced by a relatively small group of cells and orchestrate cell proliferation and differentiation, but also the movement and polarity of neighboring cells.

However, one of the most important functions of Wnt signaling is to sample the body axis – which basically helps determine where the head and tail should form in developing tissue.

A previous study led by Professor Steffen Scholpp of the Institute of Living Systems pointed out that thin finger-like protrusions, known as cytonems, transmit Wnts from stem cells to recipient cells.

However, the mechanism of control of Wnt cytonema at the molecular level is currently unknown.

In a new study, his team investigated the role of a key component of the Wangl2 PCP signaling pathway in zebrafish embryos.

In this project, dr. Lucy Brunt, identified that Wnt proteins activate the PCP pathway in the stem cell to regulate cytonemic initiation and signal propagation.

By activating this pathway via Vangl2, it induced the formation of long and branched cytonems that enhanced distant Wnt signaling in adjacent cells.

Based on these data, fellow researcher Dr. Kyle Wedgwood and his team developed a mathematical model to simulate this effect in zebra egg development and predicted that body axis sampling was significantly altered.

“And the prediction was correct,” explained Dr. Brunt. “We found that the formation of longer cytonems in zebra larvae led to a greatly reduced head and astonishingly completely missing forebrain tissue.”

Together with cell biologists from the National University of Singapore, the scientists showed that the mechanism they described in zebrafish embryogenesis also works in various tissues, including human cancer cells.

Professor Scholpp said: “The exciting results of this multidisciplinary, multiscale project provide a step change in the understanding of how the Wnt signaling pathway operates at the molecular and cellular levels in living vertebrates.

“The data from this project will help us understand the mechanisms involved in controlling normal Wnt signaling in the future,” he added. “We believe the outcome will have fundamental implications for how we can manipulate Wnt signaling during a disease state.”


Expression, diffusion, and molecular interactions determine the distribution of Wnt3


More information:
Vangl2 promotes the formation of long cytonems to allow remote signaling of Wnt / β-catenin. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-22393

Provided by the University of Exeter

Citation: Research shows that cytonems distribute Wnt proteins in vertebrate tissue (2021, April 8) retrieved April 8, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-cytonemes-wnt-proteins-vertebrate-tissue .html

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