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Dissecting the roles of the beta-catenin and Tcf genetic programmes during colorectal cancer progression (CRC programme)
Start date: Sep 1, 2008, End date: Aug 31, 2013 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Most colorectal cancers (CRCs) are initiated by activating mutations in components of the Wnt signalling pathway. Physiological Wnt signals are required for the specification and maintenance of the stem and progenitor cell compartments of the intestinal crypts. We demonstrated that early colorectal lesions exhibit a constitutive Wnt target gene programme, which is very similar to that of normal intestinal stem and progenitor cells. We originally proposed that colorectal adenomas behave as clusters of intestinal cells locked into a constitutive crypt progenitor phenotype. Given the prevalence of Wnt signalling mutations in CRC, an outstanding endeavour is the characterization of the similarities and differences in the instructions dictated by beta-catenin and Tcf to normal intestinal cells vs. CRC cells. Here, we propose to systematically compare and catalogue the beta-catenin/Tcf genetic programmes in intestinal progenitor/stem cells, intestinal adenomas and late CRCs. Transcriptomic analysis of isolated normal progenitor cells and tumor cell populations combined with bioinformatic analysis of gene regulatory networks will allow us to workout the hierarchical interactions downstream of beta-catenin and Tcf. Moreover, functional analysis of key beta-catenin/Tcf target genes using genetically modified mice models will help us to pinpoint which Wnt-controlled functions are essential for tumor maintenance and progression in vivo. Moreover, we seek to understand the tumor suppressor role of EphB2 and EphB3 receptors, two beta-catenin/Tcf target genes in normal crypts and benign colorectal adenomas, that block cancer progression by compartmentalizing tumor cells at the onset of CRC. Overall, our results will shed light on the relationship between stem/progenitor cells and cancer and hold potential for the future development of both therapeutic and diagnostic tools.
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