bioRxiv. 2019;[preprint] doi:10.1101/682534
Mucociliary epithelia provide a first line of defense against pathogens in the airways and the epidermis of vertebrate larvae. Impaired regeneration and remodeling of mucociliary epithelia are associated with dysregulated Wnt/β-catenin signaling in chronic airway diseases, but underlying mechanisms remain elusive and studies of Wnt signaling in mucociliary cells yield seemingly contradicting results. Employing the Xenopus mucociliary epidermis, the mouse airway, and human airway basal stem cell cultures, we characterize the evolutionarily conserved roles of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in mucociliary cells in vertebrates. Wnt signaling is required in multiciliated cells for cilia formation during differentiation stages, but in Basal cells, Wnt signaling prevents specification and differentiation of epithelial cell types by activating ΔN-TP63 expression. We demonstrate that ΔN-TP63 is a master transcription factor in Basal cells, which is necessary and sufficient to mediate the Wnt-induced inhibition of differentiation and is required to retain basal stem cells during development. Chronic stimulation of Wnt signaling leads to mucociliary remodeling and Basal cell hyperplasia, but this is reversible in vivo and in vitro, suggesting Wnt inhibition as an option in the treatment of chronic lung diseases. Our work sheds light into the evolutionarily conserved regulation of stem cells and differentiation, resolves Wnt functions in mucociliary epithelia, and provides crucial insights into mucociliary development, regeneration and disease mechanisms.
Organism or Cell Type: