The interdisciplinary research consortium “Mechanisms, functions and evolution of Wnt-signaling pathways”, which consists of eleven teams of scientists from Heidelberg and Karlsruhe, was granted funding worth €2.7 million by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for a period of three years. Launched in late 2008 the project involves researchers from Heidelberg University, the Heidelberg University Hospital, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The research consortium looks into a special family of secreted signals, the Wtn-proteins, which govern central processes in embryonic development, cell differentiation and organ formation, both in humans and animals.
The molecular mechanisms that involve Wnt proteins developed very early in evolution and have continued to play a crucial role ever since. As universal growth factors Wnt-proteins regulate the development of heart, kidney and nervous tissue and regulate the formation of the dorsoventral body axis in animal embryos. Errors in the signaling network can result in severe diseases such as spina bifida in infants or colorectal cancer in adults.
“Using different animal and organ models, we aim to decipher the mechanisms of Wnt-proteins. Furthermore, we hope to gain insights into how the Wnt signaling pathways have developed throughout evolution and how they govern the development, growth and wound-healing processes in humans and animals at molecular level,” explains the group speaker Prof. Herbert Steinbeisser from the Institute of Human Genetics at the Heidelberg University Hospital. “We will include teams with new projects and experimental model systems to foster our consortium during the second funding period.”
At Heidelberg University the research group of Prof. Thomas Holstein works on the function of Wnt-signaling pathways in freshwater polyps. Research is conducted at the Department of Molecular Evolution and Genomics at the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS). At the Developmental Genetics Section of the Institute of Human Genetics the working group of Prof. Steinbeisser focuses on the function and regulation of the Wnt-signaling network in embryos of the Xenopus laevis. The team of Prof. Stefan Hardt of the Department of Cardiology at the Heidelberg University Hospital analyzes the role of Wnt-signaling pathways in the function of the heart muscle. Prof. Michael Boutros of the Medical Faculty Mannheim and the DKFZ works on the regulation of the secretion of Wnt-proteins in Drosophila. The project of Prof. Christof Niehrs (DKFZ and Institute of Molecular Biology IMB at the University of Mainz) deals with the localization of Wnt-receptors in Xenopus embryo cells, while Dr. Gary Davidson at the KIT focuses on signal transduction. Prof. Doris Wedlich and associate professor Dr. Dietmar Gradl of KIT contribute analyses on cell migration and gene regulation in amphibian embryos. Three additional groups led by Dr. Alexander Aulehla (EMBL), Dr. Matthias Carl (Medical Faculty Mannheim) and Dr. Steffen Schopp (KIT) have recently been associated. They all look into the temporal and spatial resolution of Wnt-signals in mice as well as medaka and zebra fish.
Find further information
Prof. Herbert Steinbeisser
Heidelberg University Hospital
Institut of Human Genetics
phone (06221) 56-5050
herbert.steinbeisser [ aT ] med.uni-heidelberg.de