Lens regeneration from the cornea requires suppression of Wnt/β-catenin signaling

Paul W. Hamilton, Yu Sun, Jonathan J. Henry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The frog, Xenopus laevis, possesses a high capacity to regenerate various larval tissues, including the lens, which is capable of complete regeneration from the cornea epithelium. However, the molecular signaling mechanisms of cornea-lens regeneration are not fully understood. Previous work has implicated the involvement of the Wnt signaling pathway, but molecular studies have been very limited. Iris-derived lens regeneration in the newt (Wolffian lens regeneration) has shown a necessity for active Wnt signaling in order to regenerate a new lens. Here we provide evidence that the Wnt signaling pathway plays a different role in the context of cornea-lens regeneration in Xenopus. We examined the expression of frizzled receptors and wnt ligands in the frog cornea epithelium. Numerous frizzled receptors (fzd1, fzd2, fzd3, fzd4, fzd6, fzd7, fzd8, and fzd10) and wnt ligands (wnt2b.a, wnt3a, wnt4, wnt5a, wnt5b, wnt6, wnt7b, wnt10a, wnt11, and wnt11b) are expressed in the cornea epithelium, demonstrating that this tissue is transcribing many of the ligands and receptors of the Wnt signaling pathway. When compared to flank epithelium, which is lens regeneration incompetent, only wnt11 and wnt11b are different (present only in the cornea epithelium), identifying them as potential regulators of cornea-lens regeneration. To detect changes in canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling occurring within the cornea epithelium, axin2 expression was measured over the course of regeneration. axin2 is a well-established reporter of active Wnt/β-catenin signaling, and its expression shows a significant decrease at 24 h post-lentectomy. This decrease recovers to normal endogenous levels by 48 h. To test whether this signaling decrease was necessary for lens regeneration to occur, regenerating eyes were treated with either 6-bromoindirubin-3'-oxime (BIO) or 1-azakenpaullone - both activators of Wnt signaling - resulting in a significant reduction in the percentage of cases with successful regeneration. In contrast, inhibition of Wnt signaling using either the small molecule IWR-1, treatment with recombinant human Dickkopf-1 (rhDKK1) protein, or transgenic expression of Xenopus DKK1, did not significantly affect the percentage of successful regeneration. Together, these results suggest a model where Wnt/β-catenin signaling is active in the cornea epithelium and needs to be suppressed during early lens regeneration in order for these cornea cells to give rise to a new lentoid. While this finding differs from what has been described in the newt, it closely resembles the role of Wnt signaling during the initial formation of the lens placode from the surface ectoderm during early embryogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-215
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Eye Research
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Cornea epithelium
  • Lens
  • Regeneration
  • Wnt/β-catenin signaling
  • Xenopus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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