Growth factor signaling is involved in the development of various organs, but how signaling regulates organ morphogenesis and differentiation in a coordinated manner remains to be clarified. Here, we show how WNT signaling controls epithelial morphogenetic changes and differentiation using the salivary gland as a model. Experiments using genetically manipulated mice and organ cultures revealed that WNT signaling at an early stage (E12-E15) of submandibular salivary gland (SMG) development inhibits end bud morphogenesis and differentiation into proacini by suppressing Kit expression through the upregulation of the transcription factor MYB, and concomitantly increasing the expression of distal progenitor markers. In addition, WNT signaling at the early stage of SMG development promoted end bud cell proliferation, leading to duct formation. WNT signaling reduction at a late stage (E16-E18) of SMG development promoted end bud maturation and suppressed duct formation. Thus, WNT signaling controls the timing of SMG organogenesis by keeping end bud cells in an undifferentiated bipotent state.
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