Wnts are expressed in the forming long bones, suggesting roles in skeletogenesis. To examine the action of Wnts in skeleton formation, we developed a genetic system to conditionally express Wnt4 in chondrogenic tissues of the mouse. A mouse Wnt4 cDNA was introduced into the ubiquitously expressed Rosa26 (R26) locus by gene targeting in embryonic stem (ES) cells. The expression of Wnt4 from the R26 locus was blocked by a neomycin selection cassette flanked by loxP sites (floxneo) that was positioned between the Rosa26 promoter and the Wnt4 cDNA, creating the allele designated R26(floxneoWnt4). Wnt4 expression was activated during chondrogenesis using Col2a1-Cre transgenic mice that express Cre recombinase in differentiating chondrocytes. R26(floxneoWnt4); Col2a1-Cre double heterozygous mice exhibited a growth deficiency, beginning approximately 7 to 10 days after birth, that resulted in dwarfism. In addition, they also had craniofacial abnormalities, and delayed ossification of the lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones. Histological analysis revealed a disruption in the organization of the growth plates and a delay in the onset of the primary and secondary ossification centers. Molecular studies showed that Wnt4 overexpression caused decreased proliferation and altered maturation of chondrocytes. In addition, R26(floxneoWnt4); Col2a1-Cre mice had decreased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). These studies demonstrate that Wnt4 overexpression leads to dwarfism in mice. The data indicate that Wnt4 levels must be regulated in chondrocytes for normal growth plate development and skeletogenesis. Decreased VEGF expression suggests that defects in vascularization may contribute to the dwarf phenotype.
Lee, H. H., & Behringer, R. R. (2007). Conditional expression of Wnt4 during chondrogenesis leads to dwarfism in mice. PLoS ONE, 2(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000450