Canonical WNT Signaling Regulates the Pituitary Organizer and Pituitary Gland Formation

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The pituitary organizer is a domain within the ventral diencephalon that expresses Bmp4, Fgf8, and Fgf10, which induce the formation of the pituitary precursor, Rathke's pouch, from the oral ectoderm. The WNT signaling pathway regulates this pituitary organizer such that loss of Wnt5a leads to an expansion of the pituitary organizer and an enlargement of Rathke's pouch. WNT signaling is classified into canonical signaling, which is mediated by β-CATENIN, and noncanonical signaling, which operates independently of β-CATENIN. WNT5A is typically classified as a noncanonical WNT; however, other WNT family members are expressed in the ventral diencephalon and nuclear localized β-CATENIN is observed in the ventral diencephalon. Therefore, we sought to determine whether canonical WNT signaling is necessary for regulation of pituitary organizer function. Using a conditional loss-of-function approach, we deleted β-catenin within the mouse ventral diencephalon. Mutant embryos have a smaller Rathke's pouch, resulting from a reduced pituitary organizer, especially Fgf8. This result suggests that canonical WNT signaling promotes pituitary organizer function, instead of inhibiting it. To test this hypothesis, we stimulated canonical WNT signaling in the ventral diencephalon using an inducible gain-of-function allele of β-catenin and found that stimulating canonical WNT signaling expands the domain of Fgf8 and results in a dysmorphic Rathke's pouch. These results demonstrate that canonical WNT signaling in the ventral diencephalon is necessary for proper expression of pituitary organizer genes and suggests that a balance of both canonical and noncanonical WNT signaling is necessary to ensure proper formation of Rathke's pouch.

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