The logistics of Wnt production and delivery


Wnts are secreted proteins that control stem cell maintenance, cell fate decisions, and growth during development and adult homeostasis. Wnts carry a post-translational modification not seen in any other secreted protein: during biosynthesis, they are appended with a palmitoleoyl moiety that is required for signaling but also impairs solubility and hence diffusion in the extracellular space. In some contexts, Wnts act only in a juxtacrine manner but there are also instances of long range action. Several proteins and processes ensure that active Wnts reach the appropriate target cells. Some, like Porcupine, Wntless, and Notum are dedicated to Wnt function; we describe their activities in molecular detail. We also outline how the cell infrastructure (secretory, endocytic, and retromer pathways) contribute to the progression of Wnts from production to delivery. We then address how Wnts spread in the extracellular space and form a signaling gradient despite carrying a hydrophobic moiety. We highlight particularly the role of lipid-binding Wnt interactors and heparan sulfate proteoglycans. Finally, we briefly discuss how evolution might have led to the emergence of this unusual signaling pathway.

Journal details

Volume 153
Pages 1-60
Available online
Publication date