Wnt/β-catenin signaling regulates adipose tissue lipogenesis and adipocyte-specific loss is rigorously defended by neighboring stromal-vascular cells

Devika P. Bagchi, Akira Nishii, Ziru Li, Jennifer B. DelProposto, ... Ormond A. MacDougald


Canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling is a well-studied endogenous regulator of mesenchymal cell fate determination, promoting osteoblastogenesis and inhibiting adipogenesis. However, emerging genetic evidence in humans links a number of Wnt pathway members to body fat distribution, obesity, and metabolic dysfunction, suggesting that this pathway also functions in adipocytes. Recent studies in mice have uncovered compelling evidence that the Wnt signaling pathway plays important roles in adipocyte metabolism, particularly under obesogenic conditions. However, complexities in Wnt signaling and differences in experimental models and approaches have thus far limited our understanding of its specific roles in this context.


To investigate roles of the canonical Wnt pathway in the regulation of adipocyte metabolism, we generated adipocyte-specific β-catenin (β-cat) knockout mouse and cultured cell models. We used RNA sequencing, ChIP sequencing, and molecular approaches to assess expression of Wnt targets and lipogenic genes. We then used functional assays to evaluate effects of β-catenin deficiency on adipocyte metabolism, including lipid and carbohydrate handling. In mice maintained on normal chow and high-fat diets, we assessed the cellular and functional consequences of adipocyte-specific β-catenin deletion on adipose tissues and systemic metabolism.


We report that in adipocytes, the canonical Wnt/β-catenin pathway regulates de novolipogenesis (DNL) and fatty acid monounsaturation. Further, β-catenin mediates effects of Wnt signaling on lipid metabolism in part by transcriptional regulation of Mlxipl and Srebf1. Intriguingly, adipocyte-specific loss of β-catenin is sensed and defended by CD45-/CD31- stromal cells to maintain tissue-wide Wnt signaling homeostasis in chow-fed mice. With long-term high-fat diet, this compensatory mechanism is overridden, revealing that β-catenin deletion promotes resistance to diet-induced obesity and adipocyte hypertrophy and subsequent protection from metabolic dysfunction.


Taken together, our studies demonstrate that Wnt signaling in adipocytes is required for lipogenic gene expression, de novo lipogenesis, and lipid desaturation. In addition, adipose tissues rigorously defend Wnt signaling homeostasis under standard nutritional conditions, such that stromal-vascular cells sense and compensate for adipocyte-specific loss. These findings underscore the critical importance of this pathway in adipocyte lipid metabolism and adipose tissue function.