The Wnt genes encode conserved secreted proteins that play a role in normal development and tumorigenesis. Little is known about the signal transduction pathways of Wnt gene products. One of the best characterized Wnt family members is the Drosophila segment polarity gene wingless. We have investigated whether segment polarity genes with a wingless-like phenotype mediate the wingless signal. We used a wingless transgene controlled by a heat-shock promoter for genetic epistasis experiments. We show that wingless acts through dishevelled and armadillo to affect the expression of the homeobox gene engrailed and cuticle differentiation.
The Drosophila Wnt-1 homolog, wingless (wg), is involved in the signaling of patterning information in several contexts. In the embryonic epidermis, Wg protein is secreted and taken up by neighboring cells, in which it is required for maintenance of engrailed transcription and accumulation of Armadillo protein. The dishevelled (dsh) gene mediates these signaling events as well as wg-dependent induction across tissue layers in the embryonic midgut. dsh is also required for the development processes in which wg functions in adult development. Overall, cells lacking dsh are unable to adopt fates specified by Wg. dsh functions cell autonomously, indicating that it is involved in the response of target cells to the Wg signal. dsh is expressed uniformly in the embryo and encodes a novel protein with no known catalytic motifs, although it shares a domain of homology with several junction-associated proteins. Our results demonstrate that dsh encodes a specific component of Wg signaling and illustrate that Wnt proteins may utilize a novel mechanism of extracellular signal transduction.
The link between oncogenesis and normal development is well illustrated by the study of the Wnt family of proteins. The first Wnt gene (int-1) was identified over a decade ago as a proto-oncogene, activated in response to proviral insertion of a mouse mammary tumor virus. Subsequently, the discovery that Drosophila wingless, a developmentally important gene, is homologous to int-1 supported the notion that int-1 may have a role in normal development. In the last few years it has been recognized that int-1 and Wingless belong to a large family of related glyco-proteins found in vertebrates and invertebrates. In recognition of this, members of this family have been renamed Wnts, an amalgam of int and Wingless. Investigation of Wnt genes in Xenopus and mouse indicates that Wnts have a role in cell proliferation, differentiation and body axis formation. Further analysis in Drosophila has revealed that Wingless function is required in several developmental processes in the embryo and imaginal discs. In addition, a genetic approach has identified some of the molecules required for the transmission and reception of the Wingless signal. We will review recent data which have contributed to our growing understanding of the function and mechanism of Drosophila Wingless signaling in cell fate determination, growth and specification of pattern.
We have characterized the molecular nature of mutations in wingless (wg), a segment polarity gene acting during various stages of Drosophila development. Embryo-lethal alleles have undergone mutations in the protein-encoding domain of the gene, including deletions and point mutations of conserved residues. In a temperature sensitive mutation, a conserved cysteine residue is replaced by a serine. In embryo-viable alleles, the wg transcriptional unit is not affected. Immunostaining of mutant embryos shows that the embryo-lethal alleles produce either no wg antigen or a form of the protein that is retained within cells. Interestingly, embryos mutant for the segment polarity gene porcupine show a similar retention of the wg antigen. We have also transfected wild type wg alleles into Drosophila tissue culture cells, which then display wg protein on the cell surface and in the extracellular matrix. In similar experiments with mutant alleles, the proteins are retained in intracellular compartments and appear not to be secreted. These data provide further evidence that wg acts as a secreted factor and suggest that porcupine provides an accessory function for wg protein secretion or transport.
By a complex and little understood mechanism, segment polarity genes control patterning in each segment of the Drosophila embryo. During this process, cell to cell communication plays a pivotal role and is under direct control of the products of segment polarity genes. Many of the cloned segment polarity genes have been found to be highly conserved in evolution, providing a model system for cellular interactions in other organisms. In Drosophila, two of these genes, engrailed and wingless, are expressed on either side of the parasegment border. wingless encodes a secreted molecule and engrailed a nuclear protein with a homeobox. Maintenance of engrailed expression is dependent on wingless and vice versa. To investigate the role of other segment polarity genes in the mutual control between these two genes, we have examined wingless and engrailed protein distribution in embryos mutant for each of the segment polarity genes. In embryos mutant for armadillo, dishevelled and porcupine, the changes in engrailed expression are identical to those in wingless mutant embryos, suggesting that their gene products act in the wingless pathway. In embryos mutant for hedgehog, fused, cubitus interruptus Dominant and gooseberry, expression of engrailed is affected to varying degrees. However wingless expression in the latter group decays in a similar way earlier than engrailed expression, indicating that these gene products might function in the maintenance of wingless expression. Using double mutant embryos, epistatic relationships between some segment polarity genes have been established. We present a model showing a current view of segment polarity gene interactions.
Intrasegmental patterning in the Drosophila embryo is regulated by cell-cell communication. One of the signaling pathways that operates to specify positional information throughout the segment is mediated by the wingless (wg) protein, which is the homolog of the proto-oncogene Wnt-1. The early role of wg is to stabilize engrailed (en) expression by initiating a phase of en autoregulation in the adjacent more posterior cells. Here, we report that the segment polarity gene zeste-white 3 (zw3; also known as shaggy) acts as a repressor of en autoregulation. Genetic epistasis experiments indicate that wg signaling operates by inactivating the zw3 repression of en autoactivation. In addition, we demonstrate that zw3 encodes the Drosophila homolog of mammalian glycogen synthase kinase-3.