Impact of laminitis on the canonical Wnt signaling pathway in basal epithelial cells of the equine digital laminae.
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The digital laminae is a two layer tissue that attaches the distal phalanx to the inner hoof wall, thus suspending the horse's axial skeleton in the hoof capsule. This tissue fails at the epidermal:dermal junction in laminitic horses, causing crippling disease. Basal epithelial cells line the laminar epidermal:dermal junction, undergo physiological change in laminitic horses, and lose versican gene expression. Versican gene expression is purportedly under control of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway and is a trigger for mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition; thus, its repression in laminar epithelial cells of laminitic horses may be associated with suppression of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway and loss of the epithelial cell phenotype. In support of the former contention, we show, using laminae from healthy horses and horses with carbohydrate overload-induced laminitis, quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction, Western blotting after sodium dodecylsulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and immunofluorescent tissue staining, that positive and negative regulatory components of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway are expressed in laminar basal epithelial cells of healthy horses. Furthermore, expression of positive regulators is suppressed and negative regulators elevated in laminae of laminitic compared to healthy horses. We also show that versican gene expression in the epithelial cells correlates positively with that of -catenin and T-cell Factor 4, consistent with regulation by the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. In addition, gene and protein expression of -catenin correlates positively with that of integrin 4 and both are strongly suppressed in laminar basal epithelial cells of laminitic horses, which remain E-cadherin(+)/vimentin(-), excluding mesenchymal transition as contributing to loss of the adherens junction and hemidesmosome components. We propose that suppression of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway, and accompanying reduced expression of catenin and integrin 4 in laminar basal epithelial cells reduces cell:cell and cell:basement membrane attachment, thus, destabilizing the laminar epidermal:dermal junction.