• Wnt;
  • beta-catenin;
  • liver development;
  • stem cells;
  • differentiation;
  • proliferation;
  • cancer


The Wnt/β-catenin pathway is an evolutionarily conserved signaling cascade that plays key roles in development and adult tissue homeostasis and is aberrantly activated in many tumors. Over a decade of work in mouse, chick, xenopus, and zebrafish models has uncovered multiple functions of this pathway in hepatic pathophysiology. Specifically, beta-catenin, the central component of the canonical Wnt pathway, is implicated in the regulation of liver regeneration, development, and carcinogenesis. Wnt-independent activation of beta-catenin by receptor tyrosine kinases has also been observed in the liver. In liver development across various species, through regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, and maturation, beta-catenin directs foregut endoderm specification, hepatic specification of the foregut, and hepatic morphogenesis. Its role has also been defined in adult hepatic progenitors or oval cells especially in their expansion and differentiation. Thus, beta-catenin undergoes tight temporal regulation to exhibit pleiotropic effects during hepatic development and in hepatic progenitor biology. Developmental Dynamics 240:486–500, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.