Although mutations in Kras are present in 21% of lung tumors, there is a high level of heterogeneity in phenotype and outcome among patients with lung cancer bearing similar mutations, suggesting that other pathways are important. Wnt/β-catenin signaling is a known oncogenic pathway that plays a well-defined role in colon and skin cancer; however, its role in lung cancer is unclear. We have shown here that activation of Wnt/β-catenin in the bronchiolar epithelium of the adult mouse lung does not itself promote tumor development. However, concurrent activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling and expression of a constitutively active Kras mutant (KrasG12D) led to a dramatic increase in both overall tumor number and size compared with KrasG12D alone. Activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling altered the KrasG12D tumor phenotype, resulting in a phenotypic switch from bronchiolar epithelium to the highly proliferative distal progenitors found in the embryonic lung. This was associated with decreased E-cadherin expression at the cell surface, which may underlie the increased metastasis of tumors with active Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Together, these data suggest that activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling can combine with other oncogenic pathways in lung epithelium to produce a more aggressive tumor phenotype by imposing an embryonic distal progenitor phenotype and by decreasing E-cadherin expression.
Eugenia C. Pacheco-Pinedo, Amy C. Durham, Kathleen M. Stewart, Ashley M. Goss, Min Min Lu, Francesco J. DeMayo, Edward E. Morrisey