WNT signalling molecules act in axis formation in the diploblastic metazoan Hydra

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Members of the Wnt/wingless family of secreted proteins act as short-range inducers and long-range organizers during axis formation, organogenesis and tumorigenesis in many developing tissues1. Wnt signalling pathways are conserved in nematodes, insects and vertebrates2. Despite its developmental significance, the evolutionary origin of Wnt signalling is unclear. Here we describe the molecular characterization of members of the Wnt signalling pathway—Wnt, Dishevelled, GSK3, β-Catenin and Tcf/Lef—in Hydra, a member of the evolutionarily old metazoan phylum Cnidaria. Wnt and Tcf are expressed in the putative Hydra head organizer, the upper part of the hypostome. Wnt, β-Catenin and Tcf are transcriptionally upregulated when head organizers are established early in bud formation and head regeneration. Wnt and Tcf expression domains also define head organizers created by de novo pattern formation in aggregates. Our results indicate that Wnt signalling may be involved in axis formation in Hydra and support the idea that it was central in the evolution of axial differentiation in early multicellular animals.

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Figure 1: Structural and functional conservation of Hydra Wnt signalling molecules.
Figure 2: Expression of Wnt signalling molecules in morphogenesis of intact Hydra polyps visualized by whole-mount in situ hybridization.
Figure 3: Expression of Wnt signalling molecules during head regeneration.
Figure 4: Expression dynamics of HyTcf and HyWnt during aggregate development.


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We thank M. Sarras for sharing unpublished data, the Mishima Hydra lab for providing reg-16 mutants, C. N. David and U. Technau for critical comments on the manuscript, and K. Wehner and P. Lübberich for assistance in cloning. This work was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (B.H. and T.W.H).

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Correspondence to Bert Hobmayer.

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Hobmayer, B., Rentzsch, F., Kuhn, K. et al. WNT signalling molecules act in axis formation in the diploblastic metazoan Hydra. Nature 407, 186–189 (2000) doi:10.1038/35025063

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