An effector of intercellular adhesion, beta-catenin also functions in Wnt signaling, associating with Lef-1/Tcf DNA-binding proteins to form a transcription factor. We report that this pathway operates in keratinocytes and that mice expressing a stabilized beta-catenin controlled by an epidermal promoter undergo a process resembling de novo hair morphogenesis. The new follicles formed sebaceous glands and dermal papilla, normally established only in embryogenesis. As in embryologically initiated hair germs, transgenic follicles induce Lef-1, but follicles are disoriented and defective in sonic hedgehog polarization. Additionally, proliferation continues unchecked, resulting in two types of tumors also found in humans. Our findings suggest that transient beta-catenin stabilization may be a key player in the long-sought epidermal signal leading to hair development and implicate aberrant beta-catenin activation in hair tumors.
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