Identification of novel human Wnt target genes using adult endodermal tissue-derived organoids

Boonekamp, Kim Elisabeth, Heo, Inha, Artegiani, Benedetta, Asra, Priyanca, van Son, Gijs, de Ligt, Joep & Clevers, Hans

Published: June 2021

Canonical Wnt signaling plays a key role during organ development, homeostasis and regeneration and these processes are conserved between invertebrates and vertebrates. Mutations in Wnt pathway components are commonly found in various types of cancer. Upon activation of canonical Wnt signaling, β-catenin binds in the nucleus to members of the TCF-LEF family and activates the transcription of target genes. Multiple Wnt target genes, including Lgr5/LGR5 and Axin2/AXIN2, have been identified in mouse models and human cancer cell lines. Here we set out to identify the transcriptional targets of Wnt signaling in five human tissues using organoid technology. Organoids are derived from adult stem cells and recapitulate the functionality as well as the structure of the original tissue. Since the Wnt pathway is critical to maintain the organoids from the human intestine, colon, liver, pancreas and stomach, organoid technology allows us to assess Wnt target gene expression in a human wildtype situation. We performed bulk mRNA sequencing of organoids immediately after inhibition of Wnt pathway and identified 41 genes as commonly regulated genes in these tissues. We also identified large numbers of target genes specific to each tissue. One of the shared target genes is TEAD4, a transcription factor driving expression of YAP/TAZ signaling target genes. In addition to TEAD4, we identified a variety of genes which encode for proteins that are involved in Wnt-independent pathways, implicating the possibility of direct crosstalk between Wnt signaling and other pathways. Collectively, this study identified tissue-specific and common Wnt target gene signatures and provides evidence for a conserved role for these Wnt targets in different tissues.

Full Access Link: Developmental Biology