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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The structural and functional determinants of the Axin and Dishevelled DIX domains

Matthias T Ehebauer1* and Alfonso Martinez Arias2

Author Affiliations

1 European Molecular Biology Laboratory, c/o DESY, Building 25a, Notkestraße 85, 22603 Hamburg, Germany

2 Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, Downing Road, Cambridge, CB2 3EH, UK

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BMC Structural Biology 2009, 9:70  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-9-70

Published: 12 November 2009



The dishevelled and axin genes encode multi-domain proteins that play key roles in WNT signalling. Dishevelled prevents β-catenin degradation by interfering with the interaction of β-catenin with the degradation-mediating Axin-APC-GSK3β complex. This interference leads to an accumulation of cytoplasmic β-catenin, which enters the nucleus and interacts with transcription factors that induce expression of Wnt-target genes. Axin, as a component of the degradation-mediating complex, is a potent negative regulator of Wnt signalling, whereas Dishevelled is a potent activator. Both Dishevelled and Axin possess a DIX (Dishevelled/Axin) domain, which mediates protein-protein interactions, specifically homodimerization.


An evolutionary trace analysis of DIX domains identified conserved residues which, when mapped onto the crystal structure of the Axin DIX domain and a comparative model of the Dishevelled DIX domain, allow their categorization as residues of either structural or functional importance. We identify residues that are structural and functional determinants of the DIX domain fold, as well as those that are specific to homodimerization of Axin and Dishevelled.


This report provides the first explanation of the mutant phenotypes caused by non-synonymous substitutions in the Dishevelled and Axin DIX domain by correlating their presumed functional significance with molecular structure.