Wnt Proteins in Mammary Development and Cancer
- Cite this article as:
- Brennan, K.R. & Brown, A.M.C. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia (2004) 9: 119. doi:10.1023/B:JOMG.0000037157.94207.33
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Secreted proteins of the Wnt family play widespread roles in the regulation of embryonic development, and aberrant activation of the canonical Wnt/β-catenin pathway is one of the most frequent signaling abnormalities known in human cancer. While the consequences of Wnt signaling in development are diverse at the cellular level, they are often concerned with cell fate determination. Recent data also indicate that Wnt proteins influence the self-renewal of stem cells in certain tissues. In the mammary gland, Wnt signals are strongly implicated in initial development of the mammary rudiments, and in the ductal branching and alveolar morphogenesis that occurs during pregnancy. Transgenic expression of Wnt1 or Wnt10b in the mouse mammary gland leads to lobuloalveolar hyperplasia with a major risk of progression to carcinoma. Recent evidence suggests that this phenotype is associated with expansion of a multipotent progenitor cell population. In human breast cancer, evidence of β-catenin accumulation implies that the canonical Wnt signaling pathway is active in over 50% of carcinomas. However, specific mutations that might account for this activation of signaling have not yet been identified.