Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Lee, Ethan , M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology
Associate Professor of Pharmacology
Professor of Cancer Biology

Lab Url:

Phone Number: 615-322-1307


Lee, Ethan's picture

Office Address   Mailing Address

U-4213A Learned Lab/MRBIII

Department of Cell & Developmental Biology U-4213A Learned Lab/MRBIII 37232-8240

Research Keywords
Wnt, beta-catenin, Axin, adenomatous polyposis coli, Xenopus laevis, embryonic development, functional genomics, biochemistry, chemical genetics, colon cancer, regenerative medicine, stem cells, cancer stem cells

Research Specialty
Mechanism of Wnt signal transduction in development and disease

Research Description
The Wnt pathway is an evolutionarily conserved signaling pathway present in all metazoans. During development, Wnt signaling coordinate the formation of tissues, organs, and limbs, and its misregulation leads to a variety of human disease states such Alzheimeri's disease and cancer. My laboratory is interested in understanding the basic mechanism by which a Wnt signal is propagated and how this information can be used in regenerative medicine and in the treatment of cancer.

A major experimental approach in my laboratory involves the use of Xenopus extracts and purified proteins to biochemically reconstitute Wnt signaling in vitro. Genome-scale screens, cultured mammalian cells, Xenopus embryos, Drosophila genetics (in collaboration with Dr. Laura Lee), and mouse studies are employed to compliment and extend our biochemical findings.

One of the major mysteries of this pathway is how a Wnt signal is propagated from the cell surface. My laboratory has recently developed an in vitro system to study the mechanism of Wnt signal transduction from the plasma membrane. Towards this end, we have focused on understanding the mechanism of signaling from the coreceptor, LRP6, and the potential role of the membrane associated heterotrimeric G protein family members in Wnt signal transduction. Many components of the Wnt pathway are regulated by ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis. Recently, we have taken a genome-scale screen to identify deubiquitinating enzyme (DUBs) and ubiquitin ligases (E3s) that regulate the Wnt pathway. Several hits have been identified from these screens, and current efforts are directed towards validating their roles in Wnt signaling.

In regenerative medicine, the healing process is manipulated to repair damaged tissues. Modern regenerative medicine is a field in which stem cells are manipulated to treat a variety of human diseases. Wnt signaling is one of a handful of molecular pathways critical to stem cells. Thus, agents that target Wnt signaling would be potentially useful for the treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegeneration, and other disorders that may benefit from regenerative medicine.

Cancer stem cells (CSC) are fundamental to the initiation and maintenance of tumors. Failure to eradicate CSC (as is typical with conventional therapy) leaves behind a small reservoir of cells that drives relapse. Wnt inhibitors would be expected to specifically target this resistant CSC population. Using our Xenopus biochemical system, we have found several compounds that potently inhibit the Wnt pathway. One of these, VU-WS30, inhibits the viability of a variety of cancer cell lines that are highly dependent on Wnt signaling for growth and proliferation. Current efforts are directed towards identifying the molecular targets of VU-WS30 and other Wnt inhibitors identified in our screen.

Broadus, MR, Yew, PR, Hann, SR, Lee, E. Small-molecule high-throughput screening utilizing Xenopus egg extract. Methods Mol Biol, 1263, 63-73, 2015.

Chen, TW, Broadus, MR, Huppert, SS, Lee, E. Reconstitution Of beta-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract. J Vis Exp, (88), , 2014.

Hainline, SG, Rickmyre, JL, Neitzel, LR, Lee, LA, Lee, E. The Drosophila MCPH1-B isoform is a substrate of the APCCdh1 E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. Biol Open, , , 2014.

Li, B, Fei, DL, Flaveny, CA, Dahmane, N, Baubet, V, Wang, Z, Bai, F, Pei, XH, Rodriguez-Blanco, J, Hang, B, Orton, D, Han, L, Wang, B, Capobianco, AJ, Lee, E, Robbins, DJ. Pyrvinium attenuates Hedgehog signaling downstream of Smoothened. Cancer Res, , , 2014.

Li, B, Flaveny, CA, Giambelli, C, Fei, DL, Han, L, Hang, BI, Bai, F, Pei, XH, Nose, V, Burlingame, O, Capobianco, AJ, Orton, D, Lee, E, Robbins, DJ. Repurposing the FDA-Approved Pinworm Drug Pyrvinium as a Novel Chemotherapeutic Agent for Intestinal Polyposis. PLoS One, 9(7), e101969, 2014.

Peters, B, Williams, KC, Gorrindo, P, Rosenberg, D, Lee, EB, Levitt, P, Veenstra-VanderWeele, J. Rigid-compulsive behaviors are associated with mixed bowel symptoms in autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord, 44(6), 1425-32, 2014.

Sitaram, P, Merkle, JA, Lee, E, Lee, LA. asunder is required for dynein localization and dorsal fate determination during Drosophila oogenesis. Dev Biol, 386(1), 42-52, 2014.

Wallace, HA, Merkle, JA, Yu, MC, Berg, TG, Lee, E, Bosco, G, Lee, LA. TRIP/NOPO E3 ubiquitin ligase promotes ubiquitylation of DNA polymerase eta. Development, 141(6), 1332-41, 2014.

Barham, W, Frump, AL, Sherrill, TP, Garcia, CB, Saito-Diaz, K, Vansaun, MN, Fingleton, B, Gleaves, L, Orton, D, Capecchi, MR, Blackwell, TS, Lee, E, Yull, F, Eid, JE. Targeting the Wnt Pathway in Synovial Sarcoma Models. Cancer Discovery, , , 2013.

Ferguson, JL, Chao, WC, Lee, E, Friedman, KL. The anaphase promoting complex contributes to the degradation of the S. cerevisiae telomerase recruitment subunit Est1p. PLoS One, 8(1), e55055, 2013.

Hao, J, Ao, A, Zhou, L, Murphy, CK, Frist, AY, Keel, JJ, Thorne, CA, Kim, K, Lee, E, Hong, CC. Selective Small Molecule Targeting beta-Catenin Function Discovered by In Vivo Chemical Genetic Screen. Cell Rep, 4(5), 898-904, 2013.

Jodoin, JN, Shboul, M, Albrecht, TR, Lee, E, Wagner, EJ, Reversade, B, Lee, LA. The snRNA-processing complex, Integrator, is required for ciliogenesis and dynein recruitment to the nuclear envelope via distinct mechanisms. Biol Open, 2(12), 1390-6, 2013.

Jodoin, JN, Sitaram, P, Albrecht, TR, May, SB, Shboul, M, Lee, E, Reversade, B, Wagner, EJ, Lee, LA. Nuclear-localized Asunder regulates cytoplasmic dynein localization via its role in the Integrator complex. Mol Biol Cell, 24(18), 2954-65, 2013.

Murphy, AJ, Pierce, J, de Caestecker, C, Ayers, GD, Zhao, A, Krebs, JR, Saito-Diaz, VK, Lee, E, Perantoni, AO, de Caestecker, MP, Lovvorn, HN. CITED1 confers stemness to Wilms tumor and enhances tumorigenic responses when enriched in the nucleus. Oncotarget, , , 2013.

Tacchelly-Benites, O, Wang, Z, Yang, E, Lee, E, Ahmed, Y. Toggling a conformational switch in Wnt/??-catenin signaling: regulation of Axin phosphorylation. The phosphorylation state of Axin controls its scaffold function in two Wnt pathway protein complexes. Bioessays, 35(12), 1063-70, 2013.

Hang, BI, Thorne, CA, Robbins, DJ, Huppert, SS, Lee, LA, Lee, E. Screening for small molecule inhibitors of embryonic pathways: sometimes you gotta crack a few eggs. Bioorg Med Chem, 20(6), 1869-77, 2012.

Hanson, AJ, Wallace, HA, Freeman, TJ, Beauchamp, RD, Lee, LA, Lee, E. XIAP monoubiquitylates Groucho/TLE to promote canonical Wnt signaling. Mol Cell, 45(5), 619-28, 2012.

Jodoin, JN, Shboul, M, Sitaram, P, Zein-Sabatto, H, Reversade, B, Lee, E, Lee, LA. Human Asunder promotes dynein recruitment and centrosomal tethering to the nucleus at mitotic entry. Mol Biol Cell, 23(24), 4713-24, 2012.

Saito-Diaz, K, Chen, TW, Wang, X, Thorne, CA, Wallace, HA, Page-McCaw, A, Lee, E. The way Wnt works: Components and mechanism. Growth Factors, , , 2012.

Sitaram, P, Anderson, MA, Jodoin, JN, Lee, E, Lee, LA. Regulation of dynein localization and centrosome positioning by Lis-1 and asunder during Drosophila spermatogenesis. Development, 139(16), 2945-54, 2012.

Thorne, CA, Lafleur, B, Lewis, M, Hanson, AJ, Jernigan, KK, Weaver, DC, Huppert, KA, Chen, TW, Wichaidit, C, Cselenyi, CS, Tahinci, E, Meyers, KC, Waskow, E, Orton, D, Salic, A, Lee, LA, Robbins, DJ, Huppert, SS, Lee, E. A biochemical screen for identification of small-molecule regulators of the Wnt pathway using Xenopus egg extracts. J Biomol Screen, 16(9), 995-1006, 2011.

Alfaro, MP, Vincent, A, Saraswati, S, Thorne, CA, Hong, CC, Lee, E, Young, PP. sFRP2 suppression of bone morphogenic protein (BMP) and Wnt signaling mediates mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) self-renewal promoting engraftment and myocardial repair. J Biol Chem, 285(46), 35645-53, 2010. PMCID:2993965

Jernigan, KK, Cselenyi, CS, Thorne, CA, Hanson, AJ, Tahinci, E, Hajicek, N, Oldham, WM, Lee, LA, Hamm, HE, Hepler, JR, Kozasa, T, Linder, ME, Lee, E. Gbetagamma activates GSK3 to promote LRP6-mediated beta-catenin transcriptional activity. Sci Signal, 3(121), ra37, 2010.

Saraswati, S, Alfaro, MP, Thorne, CA, Atkinson, J, Lee, E, Young, PP. Pyrvinium, a Potent Small Molecule Wnt Inhibitor, Promotes Wound Repair and Post-MI Cardiac Remodeling. PLoS One, 5(11), e15521, 2010. PMCID:2993965

Speirs, CK, Jernigan, KK, Kim, SH, Cha, YI, Lin, F, Sepich, DS, DuBois, RN, Lee, E, Solnica-Krezel, L. Prostaglandin Gbetagamma signaling stimulates gastrulation movements by limiting cell adhesion through Snai1a stabilization. Development, 137(8), 1327-37, 2010.

Thorne, CA, Hanson, AJ, Schneider, J, Tahinci, E, Orton, D, Cselenyi, CS, Jernigan, KK, Meyers, KC, Hang, BI, Waterson, AG, Kim, K, Melancon, B, Ghidu, VP, Sulikowski, GA, LaFleur, B, Salic, A, Lee, LA, Miller, DM, Lee, E. Small-molecule inhibition of Wnt signaling through activation of casein kinase 1I?. Nat Chem Biol, 6(11), 829-36, 2010.

Anderson, MA, Jodoin, JN, Lee, E, Hales, KG, Hays, TS, Lee, LA. Asunder is a critical regulator of dynein-dynactin localization during Drosophila spermatogenesis. Mol Biol Cell, 20(11), 2709-21, 2009. PMCID:2688550

Barton, CE, Tahinci, E, Barbieri, CE, Johnson, KN, Hanson, AJ, Jernigan, KK, Chen, TW, Lee, E, Pietenpol, JA. DeltaNp63 antagonizes p53 to regulate mesoderm induction in Xenopus laevis. Dev Biol, 329(1), 130-9, 2009. PMCID:2690611

Merkle, JA, Rickmyre, JL, Garg, A, Loggins, EB, Jodoin, JN, Lee, E, Wu, LP, Lee, LA. no poles encodes a predicted E3 ubiquitin ligase required for early embryonic development of Drosophila. Development, 136(3), 449-59, 2009.

Alfaro, MP, Pagni, M, Vincent, A, Atkinson, J, Hill, MF, Cates, J, Davidson, JM, Rottman, J, Lee, E, Young, PP. The Wnt modulator sFRP2 enhances mesenchymal stem cell engraftment, granulation tissue formation and myocardial repair. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 105(47), 18366-71, 2008. PMCID:2587631

Cselenyi, CS, Jernigan, KK, Tahinci, E, Thorne, CA, Lee, LA, Lee, E. LRP6 transduces a canonical Wnt signal independently of Axin degradation by inhibiting GSK3''s phosphorylation of {beta}-catenin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, , , 2008. PMCID:2430354

Cselenyi, CS, Lee, E. Context-dependent activation or inhibition of Wnt-beta-catenin signaling by Kremen. Sci Signal, 1(8), pe10, 2008.

Moore, AC, Amann, JM, Williams, CS, Tahinci, E, Farmer, TE, Martinez, JA, Yang, G, Luce, KS, Lee, E, Hiebert, SW. Myeloid Translocation Gene Family Members Associate with TCFs and Influence TCF-Dependent Transcription. Mol Cell Biol, , , 2007. PMCID:2223385

Rickmyre, JL, Dasgupta, S, Ooi, DL, Keel, J, Lee, E, Kirschner, MW, Waddell, S, Lee, LA. The Drosophila homolog of MCPH1, a human microcephaly gene, is required for genomic stability in the early embryo. J Cell Sci, 120(Pt 20), 3565-77, 2007.

Tahinci, E, Thorne, CA, Franklin, JL, Salic, A, Christian, KM, Lee, LA, Coffey, RJ, Lee, E. Lrp6 is required for convergent extension during Xenopus gastrulation. Development, 134(22), 4095-106, 2007.

Lee, Laura A, Lee, Ethan, Anderson, Michael A, Vardy, Leah, Tahinci, Emilios, Ali, Siraj M, Kashevsky, Helena, Benasutti, Matt, Kirschner, Marc W, Orr-Weaver, Terry L. Drosophila Genome-Scale Screen for PAN GU Kinase Substrates Identifies Mat89Bb as a Cell Cycle Regulator. Dev Cell, 8(3), 435-42, 2005.

Ivanovska, Irena, Lee, Ethan, Kwan, Kristen M, Fenger, Douglas D, Orr-Weaver, Terry L. The Drosophila MOS Ortholog Is Not Essential for Meiosis. Curr Biol, 14(1), 75-80, 2004.

Tahinci, Emilios, Lee, Ethan. The interface between cell and developmental biology. Curr Opin Genet Dev, 14(4), 361-6, 2004.

Lee, Ethan, Salic, Adrian, Kr??ger, Roland, Heinrich, Reinhart, Kirschner, Marc W. The Roles of APC and Axin Derived from Experimental and Theoretical Analysis of the Wnt Pathway. PLoS Biol, 1(1), E10, 2003. PMCID:212691

Lee, E, Salic, A, Kirschner, M W. Physiological regulation of [beta]-catenin stability by Tcf3 and CK1epsilon. J Cell Biol, 154(5), 983-93, 2001. PMCID:2196183

Pfleger, C M, Lee, E, Kirschner, M W, . Substrate recognition by the Cdc20 and Cdh1 components of the anaphase-promoting complex.. Genes Dev, 15, 2396-407, 2001. PMCID:312782

Pfleger, C M, Salic, A, Lee, E, Kirschner, M W. Inhibition of Cdh1-APC by the MAD2-related protein MAD2L2: a novel mechanism for regulating Cdh1.. Genes Dev, 15(14), 1759-64, 2001. PMCID:312740

Salic, A, Lee, E, Mayer, L, Kirschner, M W. Control of beta-catenin stability: reconstitution of the cytoplasmic steps of the wnt pathway in Xenopus egg extracts. Mol Cell, 5(3), 523-32, 2000.

Berghuis, A M, Lee, E, Raw, A S, Gilman, A G, Sprang, S R. Structure of the GDP-Pi complex of Gly203-->Ala gialpha1: a mimic of the ternary product complex of galpha-catalyzed GTP hydrolysis.. Structure, 4(11), 1277-90, 1996.

Mixon, M B, Lee, E, Coleman, D E, Berghuis, A M, Gilman, A G, Sprang, S R. Tertiary and quaternary structural changes in Gi alpha 1 induced by GTP hydrolysis.. Science, 270(5238), 954-60, 1995.

Wall, M A, Coleman, D E, Lee, E, I??iguez-Lluhi, J A, Posner, B A, Gilman, A G, Sprang, S R. The structure of the G protein heterotrimer Gi alpha 1 beta 1 gamma 2.. Cell, 83(6), 1047-58, 1995.

Coleman, D E, Berghuis, A M, Lee, E, Linder, M E, Gilman, A G, Sprang, S R. Structures of active conformations of Gi alpha 1 and the mechanism of GTP hydrolysis.. Science, 265(5177), 1405-12, 1994.

Coleman, D E, Lee, E, Mixon, M B, Linder, M E, Berghuis, A M, Gilman, A G, Sprang, S R. Crystallization and preliminary crystallographic studies of Gi alpha 1 and mutants of Gi alpha 1 in the GTP and GDP-bound states.. J Mol Biol, 238(4), 630-4, 1994.

Kleuss, C, Raw, A S, Lee, E, Sprang, S R, Gilman, A G. Mechanism of GTP hydrolysis by G-protein alpha subunits.. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 91(21), 9828-31, 1994. PMCID:44910

Lee, E, Linder, M E, Gilman, A G. Expression of G-protein alpha subunits in Escherichia coli.. Methods Enzymol, 237, 146-64, 1994.

Ueda, N, I??iguez-Lluhi, J A, Lee, E, Smrcka, A V, Robishaw, J D, Gilman, A G. G protein beta gamma subunits. Simplified purification and properties of novel isoforms.. J Biol Chem, 269(6), 4388-95, 1994.

Lee, E, Taussig, R, Gilman, A G. The G226A mutant of Gs alpha highlights the requirement for dissociation of G protein subunits.. J Biol Chem, 267(2), 1212-8, 1992.

Doyle, K E, Kovalick, G E, Lee, E, Beckingham, K. Drosophila melanogaster contains a single calmodulin gene. Further structure and expression studies.. J Mol Biol, 213(4), 599-605, 1990.

Hofmann, S L, Brown, M S, Lee, E, Pathak, R K, Anderson, R G, Goldstein, J L. Purification of a sarcoplasmic reticulum protein that binds Ca2+ and plasma lipoproteins.. J Biol Chem, 264(14), 8260-70, 1989.

Postdoctoral Position Available

Postdoctoral Position Details
A postdoctoral position is available to study the Wnt pathway using primarily biochemical approaches. Possible projects include 1) reconstitution of key aspects of the Wnt pathway, 2) small molecule screen for Wnt pathway inhibitors, and 3) characterization of newly identified regulators of the Wnt pathway. Highly motivated applicants who have significant experience in protein expression and purification as well as some experience working with cultured cells would be preferred. The successful applicant would be encouraged to take a part of the project with him/her in order to begin an independent research program upon completion of the fellowship. Applicants should send a cover letter, CV, and names of three references to

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