Christof Niehrs

Institute of Molecular Biology, Mayence, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany

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Publications (160)1628.75 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The WNT signaling enhancer R-spondin3 (RSPO3) is prominently expressed in the vasculature. Correspondingly, embryonic lethality of Rspo3-deficient mice is caused by vessel remodeling defects. Yet the mechanisms underlying vascular RSPO3 function remain elusive. Inducible endothelial Rspo3 deletion (Rspo3-iECKO) resulted in perturbed developmental and tumor vascular remodeling. Endothelial cell apoptosis and vascular pruning led to reduced microvessel density in Rspo3-iECKO mice. Rspo3-iECKO mice strikingly phenocopied the non-canonical WNT signaling-induced vascular defects of mice deleted for the WNT secretion factor Evi/Wls. An endothelial screen for RSPO3 and EVI/WLS co-regulated genes identified Rnf213, Usp18, and Trim30α. RNF213 targets filamin A and NFAT1 for proteasomal degradation attenuating non-canonical WNT/Ca(2+) signaling. Likewise, USP18 and TRIM5α inhibited NFAT1 activation. Consequently, NFAT protein levels were decreased in endothelial cells of Rspo3-iECKO mice and pharmacological NFAT inhibition phenocopied Rspo3-iECKO mice. The data identify endothelial RSPO3-driven non-canonical WNT/Ca(2+)/NFAT signaling as a critical maintenance pathway of the remodeling vasculature.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Developmental Cell
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    ABSTRACT: DNA 5-methylcytosine is a dynamic epigenetic mark with important roles in development and disease. In the Tet-Tdg demethylation pathway, methylated cytosine is iteratively oxidized by Tet dioxygenases, and unmodified cytosine is restored via thymine DNA glycosylase (Tdg). Here we show that human NEIL1 and NEIL2 DNA glycosylases coordinate abasic-site processing during TET-TDG DNA demethylation. NEIL1 and NEIL2 cooperate with TDG during base excision: TDG occupies the abasic site and is displaced by NEILs, which further process the baseless sugar, thereby stimulating TDG-substrate turnover. In early Xenopus embryos, Neil2 cooperates with Tdg in removing oxidized methylcytosines and specifying neural-crest development together with Tet3. Thus, Neils function as AP lyases in the coordinated AP-site handover during oxidative DNA demethylation.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Nature Structural & Molecular Biology
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    ABSTRACT: DNA demethylation plays a central role during development and in adult physiology. Different mechanisms of active DNA demethylation have been established. For example, Growth Arrest and DNA Damage 45-(GADD45) and Ten-Eleven-Translocation (TET) proteins act in active DNA demethylation but their functional relationship is unresolved. Here we show that GADD45a physically interacts - and functionally cooperates with TET1 in methylcytosine (mC) processing. In reporter demethylation GADD45a requires endogenous TET1 and conversely TET1 requires GADD45a. On GADD45a target genes TET1 hyperinduces 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (hmC) in the presence of GADD45a, while 5-formyl-(fC) and 5-carboxylcytosine (caC) are reduced. Likewise, in global analysis GADD45a positively regulates TET1 mediated mC oxidation and enhances fC/caC removal. Our data suggest a dual function of GADD45a in oxidative DNA demethylation, to promote directly or indirectly TET1 activity and to enhance subsequent fC/caC removal.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Differentiation
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    ABSTRACT: Although recent methods for targeted drug delivery have addressed many of the existing problems of cancer therapy associated with undesirable side effects, significant challenges remain that have to be met before they find significant clinical relevance. One such area is the delicate chemical bond that is applied to connect a cytotoxic drug with targeting moieties like antibodies or peptides. Here we describe a novel platform that can be utilized for the preparation of drug-carrier conjugates in a site-specific manner, which provides excellent versatility and enables triggered release inside cancer cells. Its key feature is a cleavable doxorubicin-octreotide bioconjugate that targets overexpressed somatostatin receptors on tumor cells, where the coupling between the two components was achieved through the first cleavable disulfide-intercalating linker. The tumor targeting ability and suppression of adrenocorticotropic hormone secretion in AtT-20 cells by both octreotide and the doxorubicin hybrid were determined via a specific radioimmunoassay. Both substances reduced the hormone secretion to a similar extent, which demonstrated that the tumor homing peptide is able to interact with the relevant cell surface receptors after the attachment of the drug. Effective drug release was quickly accomplished in the presence of the physiological reducing agent glutathione. We also demonstrate the relevance of this scaffold in biological context in cytotoxicity assays with pituitary, pancreatic as well as breast cancer cell lines.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Molecular Pharmaceutics
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    ABSTRACT: The canonical Wnt signaling pathway is of paramount importance in development and disease. An emergent question is whether the upstream cascade of the canonical Wnt pathway has physiologically relevant roles beyond β-catenin-mediated transcription, which is difficult to study due to the pervasive role of this protein. Here, we show that transcriptionally silent spermatozoa respond to Wnt signals released from the epididymis and that mice mutant for the Wnt regulator Cyclin Y-like 1 are male sterile due to immotile and malformed spermatozoa. Post-transcriptional Wnt signaling impacts spermatozoa through GSK3 by (1) reducing global protein poly-ubiquitination to maintain protein homeostasis; (2) inhibiting septin 4 phosphorylation to establish a membrane diffusion barrier in the sperm tail; and (3) inhibiting protein phosphatase 1 to initiate sperm motility. The results indicate that Wnt signaling orchestrates a rich post-transcriptional sperm maturation program and invite revisiting transcription-independent Wnt signaling in somatic cells as well.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2015 · Cell
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    Dataset: mmc1

    Full-text · Dataset · Oct 2015
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    ABSTRACT: For over 15 years, antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (MOs) have allowed developmental biologists to make key discoveries regarding developmental mechanisms in numerous model organisms. Recently, serious concerns have been raised as to the specificity of MO effects, and it has been recommended to discontinue their usage, despite the long experience of the scientific community with the MO tool in thousands of studies. Reviewing the many advantages afforded by MOs, we conclude that adequately controlled MOs should continue to be accepted as generic loss-of-function approach, as otherwise progress in developmental biology will greatly suffer.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015
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    ABSTRACT: Wingless-related MMTV integration site 1 (WNT1)/β-catenin signaling plays a crucial role in the generation of mesodiencephalic dopaminergic (mdDA) neurons, including the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) subpopulation that preferentially degenerates in Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, the precise functions of WNT1/β-catenin signaling in this context remain unknown. Stem cell-based regenerative (transplantation) therapies for PD have not been implemented widely in the clinical context, among other reasons because of the heterogeneity and incomplete differentiation of the transplanted cells. This might result in tumor formation and poor integration of the transplanted cells into the dopaminergic circuitry of the brain. Dickkopf 3 (DKK3) is a secreted glycoprotein implicated in the modulation of WNT/β-catenin signaling. Using mutant mice, primary ventral midbrain cells, and pluripotent stem cells, we show that DKK3 is necessary and sufficient for the correct differentiation of a rostrolateral mdDA neuron subset. Dkk3 transcription in the murine ventral midbrain coincides with the onset of mdDA neurogenesis and is required for the activation and/or maintenance of LMX1A (LIM homeobox transcription factor 1α) and PITX3 (paired-like homeodomain transcription factor 3) expression in the correspondingmdDA precursor subset, without affecting the proliferation or specification of their progenitors. Notably, the treatment of differentiating pluripotent stem cells with recombinant DKK3 and WNT1 proteins also increases the proportion of mdDA neurons with molecular SNc DA cell characteristics in these cultures. The specific effects of DKK3 on the differentiation of rostrolateral mdDA neurons in the murine ventral midbrain, together with its known prosurvival and anti-tumorigenic properties, make it a good candidate for the improvement of regenerative and neuroprotective strategies in the treatment of PD.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015 · The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience
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    ABSTRACT: Embryonic stem cell (ESC) cultures display a heterogeneous gene expression profile, ranging from a pristine naïve pluripotent state to a primed epiblast state. Addition of inhibitors of GSK3β and MEK (so-called 2i conditions) pushes ESC cultures toward a more homogeneous naïve pluripotent state, but the molecular underpinnings of this naïve transition are not completely understood. Here, we demonstrate that DAZL, an RNA-binding protein known to play a key role in germ-cell development, marks a subpopulation of ESCs that is actively transitioning toward naïve pluripotency. Moreover, DAZL plays an essential role in the active reprogramming of cytosine methylation. We demonstrate that DAZL associates with mRNA of Tet1, a catalyst of 5-hydroxylation of methyl-cytosine, and enhances Tet1 mRNA translation. Overexpression of DAZL in heterogeneous ESC cultures results in elevated TET1 protein levels as well as increased global hydroxymethylation. Conversely, null mutation of Dazl severely stunts 2i-mediated TET1 induction and hydroxymethylation. Our results provide insight into the regulation of the acquisition of naïve pluripotency and demonstrate that DAZL enhances TET1-mediated cytosine hydroxymethylation in ESCs that are actively reprogramming to a pluripotent ground state. © 2015 The Authors.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2015 · EMBO Reports
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    ABSTRACT: During Xenopus development, Wnt signaling is thought to function first after midblastula transition to regulate axial patterning via β-catenin-mediated transcription. Here, we report that Wnt/glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) signaling functions posttranscriptionally already in mature oocytes via Wnt/stabilization of proteins (STOP) signaling. Wnt signaling is induced in oocytes after their entry into meiotic metaphase II and declines again upon exit into interphase. Wnt signaling inhibits Gsk3 and thereby protects proteins from polyubiquitination and degradation in mature oocytes. In a protein array screen, we identify a cluster of mitotic effector proteins that are polyubiquitinated in a Gsk3-dependent manner in Xenopus. Consequently inhibition of maternal Wnt/STOP signaling, but not β-catenin signaling, leads to early cleavage arrest after fertilization. The results support a novel role for Wnt signaling in cell cycle progression independent of β-catenin.
    No preview · Article · May 2015 · Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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    ABSTRACT: During primary neurulation, the separation of a single-layered ectodermal sheet into the surface ectoderm (SE) and neural tube specifies SE and neural ectoderm (NE) cell fates. The mechanisms underlying fate specification in conjunction with neural tube closure are poorly understood. Here, by comparing expression profiles between SE and NE lineages, we observed that uncommitted progenitor cells, expressing stem cell markers, are present in the neural plate border/neural fold prior to neural tube closure. Our results also demonstrated that canonical Wnt and its antagonists, DKK1/KREMEN1, progressively specify these progenitors into SE or NE fates in accord with the progress of neural tube closure. Additionally, SE specification of the neural plate border via canonical Wnt signaling is directed by the grainyhead-like 3 (Grhl3) transcription factor. Thus, we propose that the fate specification of uncommitted progenitors in the neural plate border by canonical Wnt signaling and its downstream effector Grhl3 is crucial for neural tube closure. This study implicates that failure in critical genetic factors controlling fate specification of progenitor cells in the neural plate border/neural fold coordinated with neural tube closure may be potential causes of human neural tube defects.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2015 · EBioMedicine
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    ABSTRACT: DNA methylation is a dynamic and reversible process that governs gene expression during development and disease. Several examples of active DNA demethylation have been documented, involving genome-wide and gene-specific DNA demethylation. How demethylating enzymes are targeted to specific genomic loci remains largely unknown. We show that an antisense lncRNA, termed TARID (for TCF21 antisense RNA inducing demethylation), activates TCF21 expression by inducing promoter demethylation. TARID interacts with both the TCF21 promoter and GADD45A (growth arrest and DNA-damage-inducible, alpha), a regulator of DNA demethylation. GADD45A in turn recruits thymine-DNA glycosylase for base excision repair-mediated demethylation involving oxidation of 5-methylcytosine to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in the TCF21 promoter by ten-eleven translocation methylcytosine dioxygenase proteins. The results reveal a function of lncRNAs, serving as a genomic address label for GADD45A-mediated demethylation of specific target genes.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Molecular Cell
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    ABSTRACT: Wnt signaling represents a highly versatile signaling system, which plays diverse and critical roles in various aspects of neural development. Sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglia require Wnt signaling for initial cell-fate determination as well as patterning and synapse formation. Here we report that Wnt signaling pathways persist in adult sensory neurons and play a functional role in their sensitization in a pathophysiological context. We observed that Wnt3a recruits the Wnt-calcium signaling pathway and the Wnt planar cell polarity pathway in peripheral nerves to alter pain sensitivity in a modality-specific manner and we elucidated underlying mechanisms. In contrast, biochemical, pharmacological, and genetic studies revealed lack of functional relevance for the classical canonical β-catenin pathway in peripheral sensory neurons in acute modulation of nociception. Finally, this study provides proof-of-concept for a translational potential for Wnt3a-Frizzled3 signaling in alleviating disease-related pain hypersensitivity in cancer-associated pain in vivo.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2014 · Neuron
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    ABSTRACT: Canonical Wnt signaling is thought to regulate cell behavior mainly by inducing β-catenin-dependent transcription of target genes. In proliferating cells Wnt signaling peaks in the G2/M phase of the cell cycle, but the significance of this "mitotic Wnt signaling" is unclear. Here we introduce Wnt-dependent stabilization of proteins (Wnt/STOP), which is independent of β-catenin and peaks during mitosis. We show that Wnt/STOP plays a critical role in protecting proteins, including c-MYC, from GSK3-dependent polyubiquitination and degradation. Wnt/STOP signaling increases cellular protein levels and cell size. Wnt/STOP, rather than β-catenin signaling, is the dominant mode of Wnt signaling in several cancer cell lines, where it is required for cell growth. We propose that Wnt/STOP signaling slows down protein degradation as cells prepare to divide.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Molecular cell
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    Ya-Lin Huang · Christof Niehrs
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    ABSTRACT: How cells convert polarity cues into cell fate specification is incompletely understood. Here, we show that Wnt/β-catenin and Wnt/PCP signaling cooperate in this process in early Xenopus embryos. We find that the Wnt coreceptor Lrp6 is asymmetrically localized to the basolateral membrane in ectodermal blastomeres. Lrp6 asymmetry is controlled by Wnt/PCP signaling, indicating that this pathway regulates not only planar- but also apicobasal cell polarity. Following asymmetric cell division, Lrp6 preferentially sorts to the deep ectodermal cell layer and becomes depleted in the epithelial cell layer. This is accompanied by elevated Wnt/β-catenin signaling in deep cells, which in turn promotes their differentiation into ciliated cells. We conclude that coordinated Wnt/PCP and Wnt/β-catenin signaling convert apicobasal polarity information to specify ectodermal cell fate.
    Preview · Article · Apr 2014 · Developmental Cell
  • Gary Davidson · Christof Niehrs
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    ABSTRACT: The recent discovery of additional receptor classes for the R-spondin family of Wnt agonists adds to the already complex set of mechanisms that regulates Wnt signaling on the membrane of responding cells. This chapter provides a detailed overview of the principal receptors that transduce Wnt/β-catenin signals, namely, the frizzled (FZD) family and two specialized members of the low-density lipoprotein receptor family, LRP5 and LRP6. It focuses on their interaction with Wnt ligands; their regulation by extracellular, transmembrane, as well as intracellular modifiers; and their aggregation into activated receptor platforms referred to as signalosomes.
    No preview · Chapter · Mar 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Wnt/β-catenin signaling plays an important role in embryonic development and adult tissue homeostasis. When Wnt ligands bind to the receptor complex, LRP5/6 coreceptors are activated by phosphorylation and concomitantly endocytosed. In vertebrates, Wnt ligands induce caveolin-dependent endocytosis of LRP6 to relay signal downstream, whereas antagonists such as Dickkopf promote clathrin-dependent endocytosis, leading to inhibition. However, little is known about how LRP6 is directed to different internalization mechanisms, and how caveolin-dependent endocytosis is mediated. In an RNAi screen, we identified the Rab GTPase RAB8B as being required for Wnt/β-catenin signaling. RAB8B depletion reduces LRP6 activity, β-catenin accumulation, and induction of Wnt target genes, whereas RAB8B overexpression promotes LRP6 activity and internalization and rescues inhibition of caveolar endocytosis. In Xenopus laevis and Danio rerio, RAB8B morphants show lower Wnt activity during embryonic development. Our results implicate RAB8B as an essential evolutionary conserved component of Wnt/β-catenin signaling through regulation of LRP6 activity and endocytosis.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2013 · Cell Reports
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    Cristina-Maria Cruciat · Christof Niehrs
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    ABSTRACT: Signaling by the Wnt family of secreted glycoproteins plays important roles in embryonic development and adult homeostasis. Wnt signaling is modulated by a number of evolutionarily conserved inhibitors and activators. Wnt inhibitors belong to small protein families, including sFRP, Dkk, WIF,Wise/SOST, Cerberus, IGFBP, Shisa,Waif1, APCDD1, and Tiki1. Their common feature is to antagonize Wnt signaling by preventing ligand-receptor interactions or Wnt receptor maturation. Conversely, the Wnt activators, R-spondin and Norrin, promote Wnt signaling by binding to Wnt receptors or releasing a Wnt-inhibitory step.With few exceptions, these antagonists and agonists are not pure Wnt modulators, but also affect additional signaling pathways, such as TGF-b and FGF signaling. Here we discuss their interactions with Wnt ligands and Wnt receptors, their role in developmental processes, as well as their implication in disease.
    Preview · Article · Mar 2013 · Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine

  • No preview · Article · Mar 2013 · European Urology Supplements
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    ABSTRACT: Loss of tissue organization is a hallmark of the early stages of cancer, and there is considerable interest in proteins that maintain normal tissue architecture. Prostate epithelial cells cultured in Matrigel form three-dimensional acini that mimic aspects of prostate gland development. The organization of these structures requires the tumor suppressor Dickkopf-3 (Dkk-3), a divergent member of the Dkk family of secreted Wnt signaling antagonists that is frequently downregulated in prostate cancer. To gain further insight into the function of Dkk-3 in the prostate, we compared the prostates of Dkk3 null mice with those of control littermates. We found increased proliferation of prostate epithelial cells in the mutant mice and changes in prostate tissue organization. Consistent with these observations, cell proliferation was elevated in acini formed by human prostate epithelial cells stably silenced for Dkk-3. Silencing of Dkk-3 increased TGF-β/Smad signaling and inhibitors of TGF-β/Smad signaling rescued the defective acinar phenotype caused by loss of Dkk-3. These findings suggest that Dkk-3 maintains the structural integrity of the prostate gland by limiting TGF-β/Smad signaling.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2013 · Journal of Cell Science

Publication Stats

13k Citations
1,628.75 Total Impact Points


  • 2010-2016
    • Institute of Molecular Biology
      Mayence, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany
  • 1997-2013
    • German Cancer Research Center
      • Division of Molecular Embryology
      Heidelburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
  • 2011
    • Universität Heidelberg
      • Department of Molecular Biology
      Heidelburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
  • 2009
    • Hebrew University of Jerusalem
      • Department of Developmental Biology and Cancer Research
      Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, Israel
  • 2008
    • Harvard University
      Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
  • 2006
    • Yale University
      • Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
      New Haven, Connecticut, United States
  • 1995
    • Howard Hughes Medical Institute
      Ashburn, Virginia, United States
  • 1992-1993
    • University of California, Los Angeles
      • Molecular Biology Institute
      Los Ángeles, California, United States