Regulation of beta-catenin stability is essential for Wnt signal transduction during development and tumorigenesis. It is well known that serine-phosphorylation of beta-catenin by the Axin-glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3beta complex targets beta-catenin for ubiquitination-degradation, and mutations at critical phosphoserine residues stabilize beta-catenin and cause human cancers. How beta-catenin phosphorylation results in its degradation is undefined. Here we show that phosphorylated beta-catenin is specifically recognized by beta-Trcp, an F-box/WD40-repeat protein that also associates with Skp1, an essential component of the ubiquitination apparatus. beta-catenin harboring mutations at the critical phosphoserine residues escapes recognition by beta-Trcp, thus providing a molecular explanation for why these mutations cause beta-catenin accumulation that leads to cancer. Inhibition of endogenous beta-Trcp function by a dominant negative mutant stabilizes beta-catenin, activates Wnt/beta-catenin signaling, and induces axis formation in Xenopus embryos. Therefore, beta-Trcp plays a central role in recruiting phosphorylated beta-catenin for degradation and in dorsoventral patterning of the Xenopus embryo.
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