How cells in developing embryos communicate depends a great deal on context, according to scientists at Rice University. They found that a protein signaling pathway known as WNT and its interactions are far more dynamic than once thought as the response of different cell types to the same signals is dramatically different. Researchers already knew that WNT, which carries messages across the cell membrane, is central to the early development of organisms and later helps stabilize cells in adults. Now they're gaining a more complete picture of the pathway's function. Near the start of life, WNT signals provide key developmental cues from outside the cell. These extracellular WNT signals help direct cell differentiation by triggering beta-catenin proteins that affect gene expression in the cell's nucleus. They found the WNT pathway not only listens for signals from a wider range of triggers than previously known but that while it is influencing the identities of new cell types during embryonic development, those new cell types are themselves beginning to change how they interpret WNT signals.
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