Ota, S., Ishitani, S., Shimizu, N., Matsumoto, K., Itoh, M., and Ishitani, T. (2012) NLK positively regulates Wnt/beta-catenin signalling by phosphorylating LEF1 in neural progenitor cells. The EMBO journal. 31(8):1904-1915.
Nemo-like kinase (NLK/Nlk) is an evolutionarily conserved protein kinase involved in Wnt/β-catenin signalling. However, the roles of NLK in Wnt/β-catenin signalling in vertebrates remain unclear. Here, we show that inhibition of Nlk2 function in zebrafish results in decreased Lymphoid enhancer factor-1 (Lef1)-mediated gene expression and cell proliferation in the presumptive midbrain, resulting in a reduction of midbrain tectum size. These defects are related to phosphorylation of Lef1 by Nlk2. Thus, Nlk2 is essential for the phosphorylation and activation of Lef1 transcriptional activity in neural progenitor cells (NPCs). In NPC-like mammalian cells, NLK is also required for the phosphorylation and activation of LEF1 transcriptional activity. Phosphorylation of LEF1 induces its dissociation from histone deacetylase, thereby allowing transcription activation. Furthermore, we demonstrate that NLK functions downstream of Dishevelled (Dvl) in the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway. Our findings reveal a novel role of NLK in the activation of the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway.