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Division of Molecular Embryology

Prof. Dr. Christof Niehrs

Xenopus embryo with two heads, resulting from experimental overactivation of the head inducer Dickkopf1

How cells communicate with their environment via cell-cell interactions and by growth factors is a key question in the molecular life sciences, including tumor biology. Wnt signaling plays an important role in embryonic development and cancer. In our Division of Molecular Embryology we study mechanisms of Wnt pathway regulation. To this end, we identify developmental control genes, investigate what their biological role and biochemical mode of action is, and how the genes are regulated. Our particular interest is to investigate signal transduction of Wnt receptors and associated cofactors. We study mouse and frog embryos as well as organoid- and mammalian cell culture as model systems and we make use of innovative molecular technologies for their analysis. Thus, we follow a comprehensive approach spanning from the biochemical to the organismic level, to unravel the Wnt signaling network and its biological role, as a basis for novel translational approaches in tumor biology.

Future Outlook
We pursue four main lines of research. First, we investigate the role of Wnt signaling in cell cycle regulation, notably mitosis. We found that Wnt signaling affects cell division by a novel posttranscriptional pathway and we are identifying the relevant Wnt target proteins. Second, we study the role and biochemical mechanism of signaling of Rspondins, stem cell growth factors, which we had previously discovered as Wnt signaling agonists. Third, we investigate the role of RNA helicases in protein kinase regulation in the context of Wnt signaling. Fourth, we screen for- novel Wnt pathway components and characterize them.


Prof. Dr. Christof Niehrs
Molecular Embryology (A050)
Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum
Im Neuenheimer Feld 280
69120 Heidelberg
Tel: +49 6221 42 4693

Selected Publications

  • Koch, S. et al. (2015). Post-transcriptional Wnt Signaling Governs Epididymal Sperm Maturation. Cell, 163(5),1225-1236
  • Huang, Y.L. et al. (2014). Polarized Wnt Signaling Regulates Ectodermal Cell Fate in Xenopus. Dev Cell, 29(10), 250-257.
  • Cruciat, C.M. et al. (2013). RNA helicase DDX3 is a regulatory subunit of casein kinase 1 in Wnt-?-catenin signaling. Science, 339(6126), 1436-1441.
  • Niehrs, C. (2012). The complex world of WNT receptor signalling. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 13(494), 767-779.
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