Evolution of the Wnt pathways.
Wnt proteins mediate the transduction of at least three major signaling pathways that play central roles in many early and late developmental decisions. They control diverse cellular behaviors, such as cell fate decisions, proliferation, and migration, and are involved in many important embryological events, including axis specification, gastrulation, and limb, heart, or neural development. The three major Wnt pathways are activated by ligands, the Wnts, which clearly belong to the same gene family. However, their signal is then mediated by three separate sets of extracellular, cytoplasmic, and nuclear components that are pathway-specific and that distinguish each of them. Homologs of the Wnt genes and of the Wnt pathways components have been discovered in many eukaryotic model systems and functional investigations have been carried out for most of them. This review extracts available data on the Wnt pathways, from the protist Dictyostelium discoideum to humans, and provides from an evolutionary prospective the overall molecular and functional conservation of the three Wnt pathways and their activators throughout the eukaryotic superkingdom.
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