Wnt proteins are important bone marrow-derived growth factors known to support normal hematopoietic progenitor and stem cell development. Here we report that B cell progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (pre-B ALL) cells express Wnt proteins, including Wnt-2b in 33%, Wnt-5a in 42%, Wnt-10b in 58% and Wnt-16b in 25% of cases. The Wnt receptors, Frizzled (Fz)-7 and -8 were also expressed in most cases while Fz-3, -4 and -9 were occasionally detected. Stimulation of pre-B ALL cells with Wnt-3a activated canonical Wnt signaling with increased expression and nuclear translocation of β-catenin. This resulted in a 1.7 to 5.3-fold increase in cell proliferation, which was associated with enhanced cell cycle entry. Wnt-3a also significantly increased the survival of pre-B ALL cells under conditions of serum deprivation. To determine the mechanisms involved we examined the effects of Wnt-3a on gene expression using the leukemic pre-B ALL cell line NALM6 and a cancer specific microarray (GEArray® OHS-802), which contains 440 known cancer genes. Expression of 83 genes (19%) could be detected on the array. Exposure to Wnt-3a for 24 hours resulted in increased (>1.5 fold) expression of 29 genes and reduced (<50% of control) expression of 3 genes. The most highly regulated genes in response to Wnt-3a were MYBL2, E2F1, CD10, VDAC1, CDC25B (upregulated) and TRAIL-R2 (downregulated). Using qRT-PCR, we confirmed regulation of these genes in NALM6 cells and/or in another leukemic cell line LK63. These genes play important roles in the control of cell cycle (MYBL2, E2F1 and CDC25B), apoptosis (VDAC1 and TRAIL-R2) and motility (CD10) in cancer cells. Our results suggest that Wnt signalling regulates cell growth and proliferation in leukemic cells by modulating the expression of a number of genes. To our knowledge this is the first study examining the gene expression profile following Wnt stimulation in leukemic cells and potentially identifies new therapeutic targets for treatment.

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