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He Laboratory Research | Overview


Wnt Signaling in Development and Adulthood

Our lab studies the canonical Wnt/b-catenin pathway, one of the major signaling pathways active during early development and adulthood. The Wnt family of secreted growth factors facilitates cell-to-cell communication and is involved in numerous processes, including stem cell self-renewal, cellular proliferation, and cellular determination. During embryogenesis, proper Wnt signaling is critical for neurodevelopment and head formation in most animals. Wnt signaling is also active in adulthood, particularly in maintaining skeletal, hematopoietic, and intestinal tissue homeostasis. Disruptions in Wnt signaling are well established in several human pathologies such as cancer, degenerative diseases, and skeletal defects. Thus, furthering our understanding of this complex pathway will provide essential information applicable to human health.

Research focus

Our lab is primarily interested in understanding the molecular workings of Wnt/b-catenin signaling in normal development and human pathology. In the absence of a Wnt ligand, the Axin destruction complex phosphorylates b-catenin to be degraded, preventing b-catenin from reaching the nucleus. Canonical Wnt signaling is initiated by the binding of a Wnt protein to coreceptors Frizzled and Lrp5/6, which recruits the Axin destruction complex to the membrane and allows b-catenin to accumulate and enter the nucleus to alter gene expression. Current research projects in the lab focus on:

  • Understanding the role of Wnt during development
  • Understanding the mechanism of action of key signaling components
  • Identifying novel regulators of the pathway
  • Using chemical manipulation as a therapeutic target