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β-catenin tyrosine 654 phosphorylation increases Wnt signalling and intestinal tumorigenesis
  1. Wendy van Veelen1,
  2. Ngoc H Le2,
  3. Werner Helvensteijn1,
  4. Lau Blonden2,
  5. Myrte Theeuwes1,
  6. Elvira R M Bakker1,
  7. Patrick F Franken2,
  8. Léon van Gurp3,
  9. Frits Meijlink3,
  10. Martin A van der Valk4,
  11. Ernst J Kuipers1,5,
  12. Riccardo Fodde2,
  13. Ron Smits1
  1. 1Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Erasmus MC-University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Pathology, Josephine Nefkens Institute, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3Hubrecht Institute KNAW and University Medical Centre, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  4. 4Department of Experimental Animal Pathology, Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  5. 5Department of Internal Medicine, Erasmus MC-University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Wendy van Veelen, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Erasmus MC-University Medical Centre, room L-63, 's Gravendijkwal 230, 3015 CE, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; w.vanveelen{at}


Objective Deregulation of the Wnt signalling pathway by mutations in the Apc or β-catenin genes underlies colorectal carcinogenesis. As a result, β-catenin stabilises, translocates to the nucleus, and activates gene transcription. Intestinal tumours show a heterogeneous pattern of nuclear β-catenin, with the highest levels observed at the invasion front. Activation of receptor tyrosine kinases in these tumour areas by growth factors expressed by surrounding stromal cells phosphorylate β-catenin at tyrosine residues, which is thought to increase β-catenin nuclear translocation and tumour invasiveness. This study investigates the relevance of β-catenin tyrosine phosphorylation for Wnt signalling and intestinal tumorigenesis in vivo.

Design A conditional knock-in mouse model was generated into which the phospho-mimicking Y654E modification in the endogenous β-catenin gene was introduced.

Results This study provided in vivo evidence that β-cateninE654 is characterised by reduced affinity for cadherins, increased signalling and strongly increased phosphorylation at serine 675 by protein kinase A (PKA). In addition, homozygosity for the β-cateninE654 targeted allele caused embryonic lethality, whereas heterozygosity predisposed to intestinal tumour development, and strongly enhanced Apc-driven intestinal tumour initiation associated with increased nuclear accumulation of βcatenin. Surprisingly, the expression of β-cateninE654 did not affect histological grade or induce tumour invasiveness.

Conclusions A thus far unknown mechanism was uncovered in which Y654 phosphorylation of β-catenin facilitates additional phosphorylation at serine 675 by PKA. In addition, in contrast to the current belief that β-catenin Y654 phosphorylation increases tumour progression to a more invasive phenotype, these results show that it rather increases tumour initiation by enhancing Wnt signalling.

  • β-Catenin
  • colorectal cancer
  • molecular biology
  • mouse model
  • tyrosine 654 phosphorylation
  • Wnt signalling

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  • Funding This study was financially supported by grants from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO/Vidi 917.56.353; NWO/Vici 016.036.636) and the Dutch Cancer Society (DDHK20053299).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval All animal experiments were approved by the Institute's Animal Ethics Committee and were carried out in accordance with Dutch and international legislation.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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