The Wnt-1 gene plays an essential role in fetal brain development and encodes a secreted protein whose signaling mechanism is presently unknown. In this report we have investigated intracellular mechanisms by which the Wnt-1 gene induces morphological changes in PC12 pheochromocytoma cells. PC12 cells expressing Wnt-1 show increased steady-state levels of the adhesive junction protein plakoglobin, and an altered distribution of this protein within the cell. This effect appears similar to a modulation of the plakoglobin homolog, Armadillo, that occurs in Drosophila embryos in response to the Wnt-1 homolog, wingless (Riggleman, B., P. Schedl, and E. Wieschaus. 1990. Cell. 63:549-560). In addition, PC12/Wnt-1 cells show elevated expression of E-cadherin and increased calcium-dependent cell-cell adhesion. These results imply evolutionary conservation of cellular responses to Wnt-1/wingless and indicate that in certain cell types Wnt-1 may act to modulate cell adhesion mechanisms.

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