A Zic2-regulated switch in a noncanonical Wnt/betacatenin pathway is essential for the formation of bilateral circuits
The Wnt pathway is involved in a wide array of biological processes during development and is deregulated in many pathological scenarios. In neurons, Wnt proteins promote both axon extension and repulsion, but the molecular mechanisms underlying these opposing axonal responses are unknown. Here, we show that Wnt5a is expressed at the optic chiasm midline and promotes the crossing of retinal axons by triggering an alternative Wnt pathway that depends on the accumulation of βcatenin but does not activate the canonical pathway. In ipsilateral neurons, the transcription factor Zic2 switches this alternative Wnt pathway by regulating the expression of a set of Wnt receptors and intracellular proteins. In combination with this alternative Wnt pathway, the asymmetric activation of EphB1 receptors at the midline phosphorylates βcatenin and elicits a repulsive response. This alternative Wnt pathway and its Zic2-triggered switch may operate in other contexts that require a two-way response to Wnt ligands.