Wnt proteins influence many aspects of embryonic development, and their activity is regulated by several secreted antagonists, including the Xenopus Dickkopf-1 (xDkk-1) protein. xDkk-1 inhibits Wnt activities in Xenopus embryos and may play a role in induction of head structures. Here, we characterize a family of human Dkk-related genes composed of Dkk-1, Dkk-2, Dkk-3, and Dkk-4, together with a unique Dkk-3 related protein termed Soggy (Sgy). hDkks 1-4 contain two distinct cysteine-rich domains in which the positions of 10 cysteine residues are highly conserved between family members. Sgy is a novel secreted protein related to Dkk-3 but which lacks the cysteine-rich domains. Members of the Dkk-related family display unique patterns of mRNA expression in human and mouse tissues, and are secreted when expressed in 293T cells. Furthermore, secreted hDkk-2 and hDkk-4 undergo proteolytic processing which results in cleavage of the second cysteine-rich domain from the full-length protein. Members of the human Dkk-related family differ not only in their structures and expression patterns, but also in their abilities to inhibit Wnt signaling. hDkk-1 and hDkk-4, but not hDkk-2, hDkk-3 or Sgy, suppress Wnt-induced secondary axis induction in Xenopus embryos. hDkk-1 and hDkk-4 do not block axis induction triggered either by Xenopus Dishevelled (Xdsh) or Xenopus Frizzled-8 (Xfz8), both of which function to transduce signals from Wnt ligands. Thus, hDkks 1 and 4 may inhibit Wnt activity by a mechanism upstream of Frizzled. Our findings highlight the structural and functional heterogeneity of human Dkk-related proteins.
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