We have identified the Drosophila UDP-glucose dehydrogenase gene as being involved in wingless signaling. Mutations in this gene, called kiwi, generate a phenotype identical to that of wingless. UDP-glucose dehydrogenase is required for the biosynthesis of UDP-glucuronate, which in turn is utilized in the biosynthesis of glycosaminoglycans. By rescuing the kiwi phenotype with both UDP-glucuronate and the glycosaminoglycan heparan sulfate, we show that kiwi function in the embryo is crucial for the production of heparan sulfate in the extracellular matrix. Further, injection of heparin degrading enzyme, heparinase (and not chondroitin, dermatan or hyaluronic acid degrading enzyme) into wild-type embryos leads to the degradation of heparin-like glycosaminoglycans and a ‘wingless-like’ cuticular phenotype. Our study thus provides the first genetic evidence for the involvement of heparin-like glycosaminoglycans in signal transduction.

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