Wnt signaling determines major developmental processes in the embryonic state and regulates maintenance, self-renewal and differentiation of adult mammalian tissue stem cells. Both β-catenin dependent and independent Wnt pathways exist, and both affect stem cell fate in developing and adult tissues. In this review, we debate the response to Wnt signal activation in embryonic stem cells and human, adult stem cells of mesenchymal, hematopoetic, intestinal, gastric, epidermal, mammary and neural lineages, and discuss the need for Wnt signaling in these cell types. Due to the vital actions of Wnt signaling in developmental and maintenance processes, deregulation of the pathway can culminate into a broad spectrum of developmental and genetic diseases, including cancer. The way in which Wnt signals can feed tumors and maintain cancer stem stells is discussed as well. Manipulation of Wnt signals both in vivo and in vitro thus carries potential for therapeutic approaches such as tissue engineering for regenerative medicine and anti-cancer treatment. Although many questions remain regarding the complete Wnt signal cell-type specific response and interplay of Wnt signaling with pathways such as BMP, Hedgehog and Notch, we hereby provide an overview of current knowledge on Wnt signaling and its control over human stem cell fate.
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