The signaling pathway mediated by Wingless-type (Wnt) proteins is highly conserved in evolution. This pivotal pathway is known to regulate cell fate decisions, cell proliferation, morphology, migration, apoptosis, differentiation and stem cell self-renewal. It currently includes the canonical or Wnt/β-catenin pathway in which Wnt proteins bind to ‘frizzled’ receptors, which leads to downstream activation of gene transcription by β-catenin. Second, the noncanonical or β-catenin-independent pathways are now known to be mediated by three possible mechanisms: (1) the Wnt/Ca2+ pathway, (2) the Wnt/G protein signaling pathway, and (3) the Wnt/PCP or planar cell polarity pathway. Wnt signaling is implicated at several stages of mammary gland growth and differentiation, and possibly in the involution of mammary gland following lactation. Recent evidence suggests the role of Wnt signaling in human breast cancer involves elevated levels of nuclear and/or cytoplasmic β-catenin using immunohistochemistry, overexpression or downregulation of specific Wnt proteins, overexpression of CKII and sFRP4, downregulation of WIF-1 and sFRP1, as well as amplification of DVL-1. Further research is required to determine how Wnt signaling is involved in the development of different histological types of breast cancer and whether it promotes the viability of cancer stem cells or not.
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