Author(s): Giles RH
The Wnt signaling pathway, named for its most upstream ligands, the Wnts, is involved in various differentiation events during embryonic development and leads to tumor formation when aberrantly activated. Molecular studies have pinpointed activating mutations of the Wnt signaling pathway as the cause of approximately 90% of colorectal cancer (CRC), and somewhat less frequently in cancers at other sites, such as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Ironically, Wnts themselves are only rarely involved in the activation of the pathway during carcinogenesis. Mutations mimicking Wnt stimulation-generally inactivating APC mutations or activating beta-catenin mutations-result in nuclear accumulation of beta-catenin which subsequently complexes with T-cell factor/lymphoid enhancing factor (TCF/LEF) transcription factors to activate gene transcription. Recent data identifying target genes has revealed a genetic program regulated by beta-catenin/TCF controlling the transcription of a suite of genes promoting cellular proliferation and repressing differentiation during embryogenesis, carcinogenesis, and in the post-embryonic regulation of cell positioning in the intestinal crypts. This review considers the spectra of tumors arising from active Wnt signaling and attempts to place perspective on recent data that begin to elucidate the mechanisms prompting uncontrolled cell growth following induction of Wnt signaling.