Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) contains a subpopulation of cells, GBM stem cells (GSCs), that maintain the bulk tumor and represent a key therapeutic target. Norrin is a Wnt ligand that binds Frizzled class receptor 4 (FZD4) to activate canonical Wnt signaling. Although Norrin, encoded by NDP, has a well-described role in vascular development, its function in human tumorigenesis is largely unexplored. Here, we show that NDP expression is enriched in neurological cancers, including GBM, and its levels positively correlated with survival in a GBM subtype defined by low expression of ASCL1, a proneural factor. We investigated the function of Norrin and FZD4 in GSCs and found that it mediated opposing tumor-suppressive and -promoting effects on ASCL1lo and ASCL1hi GSCs. Consistent with a potential tumor-suppressive effect of Norrin suggested by the tumor outcome data, we found that Norrin signaling through FZD4 inhibited growth in ASCL1lo GSCs. In contrast, in ASCL1hi GSCs Norrin promoted Notch signaling, independently of WNT, to promote tumor progression. Forced ASCL1 expression reversed the tumor-suppressive effects of Norrin in ASCL1lo GSCs. Our results identify Norrin as a modulator of human brain cancer progression and reveal an unanticipated Notch-mediated function of Norrin in regulating cancer stem cell biology. This study identifies an unanticipated role of Norrin in human brain cancer progression. In addition, we provide preclinical evidence suggesting Norrin and canonical Wnt signaling as potential therapeutic targets for GBM subtype–restricted cancer stem cells.


Ahmed El-Sehemy, Hayden Selvadurai, Arturo Ortin-Martinez, Neno Pokrajac, Yasin Mamatjan, Nobuhiko Tachibana, Katherine Rowland, Lilian Lee, Nicole Park, Kenneth Aldape, Peter Dirks, Valerie A. Wallace


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