PerspectiveCell Biology

Making a Point with Wnt Signals

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Science  22 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6126, pp. 1388-1389
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236641

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The Wnt family of secreted proteins is critical for cell fate specification during embryonic development and in adult stem cell niches. Wnts control diverse processes including body plan determination and tissue patterning, and aberrant Wnt signaling can lead to developmental abnormalities and disease, including cancer (13). It has long been suspected that Wnts act in a concentration-dependent manner. However, difficulty in purifying active recombinant Wnt proteins and the reduced activity displayed by Wnts expressed with epitope tags have hampered investigations into the role of localized Wnt signals. On page 1445 in this issue, Habib et al. (4) describe a technical advancement that allows cells to be exposed to a point source of Wnt. Such restricted Wnt activity induces polarization of embryonic stem (ES) cells and triggers asymmetric cell division, producing daughter cells with two distinct cell fates.