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Neurodevelopmental Perspectives on Wnt Signaling in Psychiatry

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Mounting evidence indicates that Wnt signaling is relevant to pathophysiology of diverse mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. In the 35 years since Wnt ligands were first described, animal studies have richly explored how downstream Wnt signaling pathways affect an array of neurodevelopmental processes and how their disruption can lead to both neurological and behavioral phenotypes. Recently, human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) models have begun to contribute to this literature while pushing it in increasingly translational directions. Simultaneously, large-scale human genomic studies are providing evidence that sequence variation in Wnt signal pathway genes contributes to pathogenesis in several psychiatric disorders. This article reviews neurodevelopmental and postneurodevelopmental functions of Wnt signaling, highlighting mechanisms, whereby its disruption might contribute to psychiatric illness, and then reviews the most reliable recent genetic evidence supporting that mutations in Wnt pathway genes contribute to psychiatric illness. We are proponents of the notion that studies in animal and hiPSC models informed by the human genetic data combined with the deep knowledge base and tool kits generated over the last several decades of basic neurodevelopmental research will yield near-term tangible advances in neuropsychiatry.

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