Aop: 298

AOP Title


Wnt ligand stimulation and Wnt signalling activation lead to cancer malignancy

Short name:


Wnt activation leading to cancer malignancy

Graphical Representation


Click to download graphical representation template




Shihori Tanabe, Akihiko Hirose, Takashi Yamada

Point of Contact


Shihori Tanabe   (email point of contact)



  • Shihori Tanabe



Author status OECD status OECD project SAAOP status
Under development: Not open for comment. Do not cite

This AOP was last modified on January 19, 2020 20:21


Revision dates for related pages

Page Revision Date/Time
Wnt ligand stimulation May 29, 2019 21:13
Frizzled activation May 29, 2019 21:17
GSK3beta inactivation May 29, 2019 21:28
β-catenin activation May 29, 2019 21:39
Snail, Zeb, Twist activation May 29, 2019 21:44
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition September 03, 2019 03:00
Cancer Malignancy May 29, 2019 22:01
Increased, Reactive oxygen species November 27, 2017 13:15
Oxidative Stress December 06, 2018 11:35
Wnt ligand stimulation leads to Frizzled activation May 29, 2019 22:07
Frizzled activation leads to GSK3beta inactivation May 29, 2019 22:12
Increased, Reactive oxygen species leads to β-catenin activation January 19, 2020 21:12
GSK3beta inactivation leads to β-catenin activation May 29, 2019 22:18
β-catenin activation leads to Snail, Zeb, Twist activation May 29, 2019 22:23
Snail, Zeb, Twist activation leads to Epithelial-mesenchymal transition November 19, 2019 20:27
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition leads to Cancer Malignancy October 08, 2019 02:06
Increased, Reactive oxygen species leads to Oxidative Stress December 03, 2019 20:49
Wnt May 29, 2019 03:59
WNT2 May 29, 2019 03:59



Wnt (Wingless and INT-1) ligands stimulate Frizzled receptors and activate Wnt signaling leading to cancer malignancy. This AOP workplan entitled “Wnt ligand stimulation and Wnt signaling activation lead to cancer malignancy” is suitable for the AOP programme in terms of revealing cancer signaling with the molecular signaling cascades induced by Wnt ligands. The current AOP includes MIE as Wnt ligand stimulation, KE1 as Frizzled activation, KE2 as GSK3beta inactivation, KE3 as beta-catenin activation, KE4 as Snail, Zeb, Twist1 activation, KE5 as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and AO as cancer malignancy. The current AOP would be associated to the prediction of the cancer malignancy, which would be the regulatory toxicological endpoint, by chemicals or molecules activating Wnt signaling. The Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is well understood in terms of development and cancer. The relationship between EMT and cancer malignancy has recently been investigated in many research fields such as molecular signatures of cells.

Background (optional)


Summary of the AOP


Events: Molecular Initiating Events (MIE)


Key Events (KE)


Adverse Outcomes (AO)


Sequence Type Event ID Title Short name
MIE 1115 Increased, Reactive oxygen species Increased, Reactive oxygen species
MIE 1645 Wnt ligand stimulation Wnt ligand stimulation
MIE 1392 Oxidative Stress Oxidative Stress
KE 1646 Frizzled activation Frizzled activation
KE 1647 GSK3beta inactivation GSK3beta inactivation
KE 1648 β-catenin activation β-catenin activation
KE 1649 Snail, Zeb, Twist activation Snail, Zeb, Twist activation
KE 1650 Epithelial-mesenchymal transition Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
AO 1651 Cancer Malignancy Cancer Malignancy

Relationships Between Two Key Events
(Including MIEs and AOs)


Title Adjacency Evidence Quantitative Understanding
Wnt ligand stimulation leads to Frizzled activation adjacent High Moderate
Frizzled activation leads to GSK3beta inactivation adjacent High Moderate
GSK3beta inactivation leads to β-catenin activation adjacent High Moderate
β-catenin activation leads to Snail, Zeb, Twist activation adjacent High Moderate
Snail, Zeb, Twist activation leads to Epithelial-mesenchymal transition adjacent High Moderate
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition leads to Cancer Malignancy adjacent High Low
Increased, Reactive oxygen species leads to Oxidative Stress adjacent High Moderate
Increased, Reactive oxygen species leads to β-catenin activation non-adjacent Moderate Moderate

Network View





Name Evidence Term
Wnt High
WNT2 High

Life Stage Applicability


Life stage Evidence
All life stages High

Taxonomic Applicability


Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
Homo sapiens Homo sapiens High NCBI

Sex Applicability


Sex Evidence
Unspecific High

Overall Assessment of the AOP


Attached file: Aop298 overall assessment

1. Support for Biological Plausibility of KERs

MIE => KE1:
Wnt ligand stimulation leads to Frizzled activation

Biological Plausibility of the MIE => KE1 is high.
Ratioinale: Upon the stimulation with Wnt ligand, Wnt ligand binds to FZD and form the complex with LRP5/6 (MacDonald et al., 2009).

KE1 => KE2:
Frizzled activation leads to GSK3beta inactivation

Biological Plausibility of the KE1 => KE2 is high.
Ratioinale: Upon Wnt ligand stimulation, FZD is activated and Axin is recruited to the phosphorylated tail of LRP dimerized with the activated FZD, the seven-transmembrane receptor, followed by GSK3beta inactivation to prevent beta-catenin degradation (Aberle, Bauer, Stappert, Kispert, & Kemler, 1997) (Clevers & Nusse, 2012).

KE2 => KE3:
GSK3beta inactivation leads to β-catenin activation

Biological Plausibility of the KE2 => KE3 is high.
Ratioinale: GSK3beta recruitment to LRP6 leads to form un-phosphorylated beta-catenin inducing the stabilization and translocation of the beta-catenin (MacDonald, Tamai, & He, 2009).
Stabilized beta-catenin accumulates in cytosol and translocates into the nucleus leading to beta-catenin activation (MacDonald et al., 2009).

KE3 => KE4:
β-catenin activation leads to Snail, Zeb, Twist activation

Biological Plausibility of the KE3 => KE4 is high.
Ratioinale: The treatment of human gastric cancer cells with INC280, which inhibits c-MET overexpressed in diffuse-type gastric cancer with poor prognosis, shows downregulation in beta-catenin and Snail expression,  (Sohn et al., 2019).
The treatment with garcinol, a polyisoprenylated benzophenone derivative that is obtained from Garcinia indica extract, induced ZEB1 and ZEB2 down-regulation, increase in phosphorylated beta-catenin and decrease in nuclear beta-catenin in human breast cancer cells (Ahmad et al., 2012).
Sortilin, a member of the Vps10p sorting receptor family which is highly expressed in high-glade malignant glioma, positively regulates GSK-3beta/beta-catenin/Twist signaling pathway in glioblastoma (W. Yang et al., 2019).

KE4 => KE5:
Snail, Zeb, Twist activation leads to Epithelial-mesenchymal transition, induced

Biological Plausibility of the KE4 => KE5 is high.
Ratioinale: The transcription factors such as Snail, Zeb and Twist inhibit the CDH1 expression through their binding towards the promoter of CDH1, which leads to inhibition of cell adhesion and EMT (Diaz et al., 2014).

KE5 => AO:
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition, induced leads to Cancer Malignancy

Biological Plausibility of the KE5 => AO is high.
Ratioinale: The morphological and physiological changes associated with EMT are involved in invasiveness and drug resistance (Shibue & Weinberg, 2017). The EMT-activated particular carcinoma cells in primary tumors invade the surrounding stroma (Shibue & Weinberg, 2017). The EMT –activated carcinoma cells interact with the surrounding extracellular matrix protein to induce focal adhesion kinase and extracellular signal-related kinase activation, followed by the transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) and canonical and/or noncanonical Wnt pathways to induce cancer stem cell (CSC) properties which contribute to the drug resistance (Shibue & Weinberg, 2017).
EMT-associated down-regulation of multiple apoptotic signaling pathways induce drug efflux and slow cell proliferation to induce the general resistance of carcinoma cells to anti-cancer drugs (Shibue & Weinberg, 2017).
Snail, an EMT-related transcription factor, induces the expression of the AXL receptor tyrosine kinase, which enables the cancer cells to survive by the activation of AXL signaling triggered by the binding of its ligand growth arrest-specific protein 6 (GAS6)(Shibue & Weinberg, 2017).
The EMT-activated cells evade the lethal effect of cytotoxic T cells, which include the elevated expression of programmed cell death 1 ligand (PD-L1) which binds to the programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) inhibitory immune-checkpoint receptor on the cell surface of cytotoxic T cells (Shibue & Weinberg, 2017).

2. Support for essentiality of KEs

KE5: Epithelial-mesenchymal transition

Essentiality of the KE5 is moderate.
Rationale for Essentiality of KEs in the AOP:

3. Empirical support for KERs

MIE => KE1:
Wnt ligand stimulation leads to Frizzled activation

Empirical Support of the MIE => KE1 is high.
Ratioinale: Dishevelled (DVL), a positive regulator of Wnt signaling, form the complex with FZD and lead to trigger the Wnt signaling together with Wnt coreceptor low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor-related protein 6 (LRP6) (Clevers & Nusse, 2012; X. Jiang et al., 2015).
Wnt binds to FZD and activate the Wnt signaling (Clevers & Nusse, 2012; Janda et al., 2012; Nile et al., 2017). Wnt binding towards FZD induce the formation of the protein complex with LRP5/6 and DVL, leading to the down-stream signaling activation (Clevers & Nusse, 2012).

KE1 => KE2:
Frizzled activation leads to GSK3beta inactivation

Empirical Support of the KE1 => KE2 is high.
Ratioinale: ・ The ligand-stimulated FZD induces the regulation of the phosphorylation by GSK3beta to inactivate GSK3beta which phosphorylates beta-catenin (Clevers & Nusse, 2012).
・ The binding of Axin to the cytoplasmic tail of LRP5 bound to Wnt is crucial for the Wnt signaling pathway regulation and GSK3 beta inactivation in Wnt/beta-catenin signaling (Mao et al., 2001).
・ Axin-LRP6 binding is the important step for the phosphorylation of the LRP5/6 tail by GSK3 beta which phosphorylates the serine in the PPPSP motif found in beta-catenin, Axin, APC (He, Semenov, Tamai, & Zeng, 2004; Tamai et al., 2004; Zeng et al., 2005).
・ Wnt3a induces phosphorylation of LRP6 leading to beta-catenin activation, while beta-catenin is not activated in FZD-inhibited cells (Zeng et al., 2008).

KE2 => KE3:
GSK3beta inactivation leads to β-catenin activation

Empirical Support of the KE2 => KE3 is high.
Ratioinale: GSK3beta inactivation induces the beta-catenin stabilization (Pez et al., 2013).
GSK3beta inactivation induces beta-catenin translocation into the nucleus (MacDonald et al., 2009; Pez et al., 2013).
WNT2 knockdown induces the accumulation of GSK3beta in the cytoplasm and reduced the expression of beta-catenin, which WNT2 overexpression reduces the expression of GSK3beta in the cytoplasm and induces beta-catenin translocation into the nucleus (Wang, Li, & Kidder, 2010).
WNT2 siRNA knockdown increases the GSK3beta expression and decreases beta-catenin expression, and WNT2 overexpression reduces the GSK3beta and increases beta-catenin in granulosa cells in Mus musculus (Wang et al., 2010).

KE3 => KE4:
β-catenin activation leads to Snail, Zeb, Twist activation

Empirical Support of the KE3 => KE4 is high.
Ratioinale: The inhibition of c-MET, which is overexpressed in diffuse-type gastric cancer, induced increase in phosphorylated beta-catenin, decrease in beta-catenin and Snail (Sohn et al., 2019).
The garcinol, that has anti-cancer effect, increases phosphorylated beta-catenin, decreases beta-catenin and ZEB1/ZEB2, and inhibit EMT (Ahmad et al., 2012).
The inhibition of sortilin by AF38469 (a sortilin inhibitor) or small interference RNA (siRNA) results in decrease in beta-catenin and Twist expression in human glioblastoma cells (W. Yang et al., 2019).

KE4 => KE5:
Snail, Zeb, Twist activation leads to Epithelial-mesenchymal transition, induced

Empirical Support of the KE4 => KE5 is high.
Ratioinale: Histone deacetylase inhibitors affect on EMT-related transcription factors including ZEB, Twist and Snail (Wawruszak et al., 2019).
Snail and Zeb induces EMT and suppress E-cadherin (CDH1) (Batlle et al., 2000; Diaz et al., 2014; Peinado, Olmeda, & Cano, 2007).

KE5 => AO:
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition, induced leads to Cancer Malignancy

Empirical Support of the KE5 => AO is high.
Ratioinale: Slug/Snai2, a ces-1-related zinc finger transcription factor gene, confers resistance to p53-mediated apoptosis of hematopoietic progenitors by repressing PUMA (also known as BBC3, encoding Bcl-2-binding component 3) (Inukai et al., 1999; Shibue & Weinberg, 2017; W.-S. Wu et al., 2005).
EMT activation induces the expression of multiple members of the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter family, which results in the resistant to doxorubicin (Saxena, Stephens, Pathak, & Rangarajan, 2011; Shibue & Weinberg, 2017) 
TGFbeta-1 induced EMT results in the acquisition of cancer stem cell (CSC) like properties (Pirozzi et al., 2011; Shibue & Weinberg, 2017).
Snail-induced EMT induces the cancer metastasis and resistance to dendritic cell-mediated immunotherapy (Kudo-Saito, Shirako, Takeuchi, & Kawakami, 2009).
Zinc finger E-box-binding homeobox (ZEB1)-induced EMT results in the relief of miR-200-mediated repression of programmed cell death 1 ligand (PD-L1) expression, a major inhibitory ligand for the programmed cell death protein (PD-1) immune-checkpoint protein on CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL), subsequently the CD8+ T cell immunosuppression and metastasis (Chen et al., 2014).

Domain of Applicability


Homo sapiens

Essentiality of the Key Events


Wnt signaling is involved in cancer malignancy (Tanabe, 2018).

Key Events Frizzled activation, GSK3beta, beta-catenin activation and Zeb, Twist and Snail transcription factors are essential to this AOP.

Upon stimulation with Wnt ligand to Frizzled receptor, Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is activated. Wnt/beta-catenin consists of GSK3 beta inactivation, beta-catenin activation and up-regulation of transcription factors such as Zeb, Twist and Snail. The transcription factors Zeb, Twist and Snail relate to the activation of EMT-related genes. EMT is regulated with various gene networks (S. Tanabe, 2015).

Evidence Assessment


The Wnt signaling promotes EMT and cancer malignancy in colorectal cancer (Lazarova & Bordonaro, 2017). Although the potential pathways other than Wnt signaling exist in EMT induction and the mechanism underlaid cancer malignancy, Wnt signaling is one of the main pathways to induce EMT and cancer malignancy (Polakis, 2012).

Quantitative Understanding


Wnt signaling activates the CSCs to promote cancer malignancy (Reya & Clevers, 2005). The responses between each KEs from Frizzled activation and GSK3beta inactivation, beta-catenin activation, Snail, Zeb, Twist activation are dose-dependently related. The quantification of EMT and cancer malignancy would require the further investigation.

Considerations for Potential Applications of the AOP (optional)


AOP entitled “Wnt ligand stimulation and Wnt signaling activation lead to cancer malignancy” might be utilized for the development and risk assessment of anti-cancer drugs. EMT is involved in the acquisition of drug resistance, which is one of the critical features of cancer malignancy. The assessment of EMT would be the potential prediction of the adverse effects of anti-cancer drugs.



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