Developmental Signals - Sonic hedgehog

From Embryology



(SHH) A secreted growth factor that binds patched (ptc) receptor on cell membrane. This protein has many different functions in different tissues of the developing embryo, the main role would be of establishing "pattern". SHH name derives from homology to the original fruitfly (drosophila) "hedgehog" mutation, where these flies have hairs located in regions (ventral) which are normally hair-free, and therefore have a disrupted body pattern.

Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) was isolated by homology to the Hh gene. SHH is a true signaling switch used in differentiating subpopulations of cells throughout the embryo. Depending on where the signal is being secreted, how far away the responsive cell population is and how SHH is proteolytically cleaved, will determine SHH function. SHH binds to the membrane receptors Patched (ptc) and BOC/CDON.

Nomenclature note lower case shh for other species, upper case SHH in humans.

Some Recent Findings

  • Dynamic interpretation of hedgehog signaling in the Drosophila wing disc. [1]
  • Patched 1 is a crucial determinant of asymmetry and digit number in the vertebrate limb.[2]
  • Uncoupling Sonic hedgehog control of pattern and expansion of the developing limb bud.[3] "One of the first changes we noted was that the dorsoventral polarity of the forebrain was disturbed, which manifested as a loss of Shh in the ventral telencephalon, a reduction in expression of the ventral markers Nkx2.1 and Dlx2, and a concomitant expansion of the dorsal marker Pax6. In addition to changes in the forebrain neuroectoderm, we observed altered gene expression patterns in the facial ectoderm. For example, Shh was not induced in the frontonasal ectoderm, and Ptc and Gli1 were reduced in both the ectoderm and adjacent mesenchyme."
  • THM1 negatively modulates mouse sonic hedgehog signal transduction and affects retrograde intraflagellar transport in cilia.[4]
  • Triphalangeal thumb-polysyndactyly syndrome and syndactyly type IV are caused by genomic duplications involving the long-range, limb-specific SHH enhancer.[5]
  • Notochord-derived Shh concentrates in close association with the apically positioned basal body in neural target cells and forms a dynamic gradient during neural patterning. [6]


Developmental patterning signal.


Shh frog notochord
  • SHH is secreted by the notochord, ventralizes the neural tube, inducing the floor plate and motor neurons.
  • Regulation of patched by sonic hedgehog in the developing neural tube.[7] "The pattern of PTC expression suggests that Sonic hedgehog may play an inductive role in more dorsal regions of the neural tube than have been previously demonstrated. Examination of the pattern of PTC expression also suggests that PTC may act in a negative feedback loop to attenuate hedgehog signaling."
Neural tube - SHH model.jpg
Neural tube - SHH model[8]

Neural Crest

  • Neural crest cell survival in the foregut endoderm of jaw development[9]
  • Sonic hedgehog is required for cardiac outflow tract and neural crest cell development.[10]


A study has shown an essential role for Shh signalling in the control of laminin-111 synthesis and in the initiation of basement membrane assembly in the myotome.[11]


  • SHH is secreted by the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA) organizing limb axis formation.
  • Extended exposure to Sonic hedgehog is required for patterning the posterior digits of the vertebrate limb.



SHH is secreted by the forebrain neuroectoderm and the facial ectoderm for upper face and nasofrontal bud development. PMID: 15979605


SHH has still others roles in organ development in lung, pancreas.

Signaling pathway

SHH signaling model

The secreted protein binds to the cell surface membrane protein the patched receptor (ptc).

canonical pathway

Series of repressive interactions which culminates in GLI-mediated transcriptional regulation of a variety of cellular processes.

non-canonical pathway

Suggested that there are at least 3 other potential pathways[13]:

  1. Involves hedgehog pathway components but which is independent of GLI-mediated transcription.
  2. Direct interaction of hedgehog signaling components with components of other molecular pathways.
  3. "Non-contiguous" or "atypical" interaction of core hedgehog pathway components with one another.


  1. <pubmed>19787036</pubmed> | PLOS
  2. <pubmed>19783740</pubmed>
  3. <pubmed>18410737</pubmed>
  4. <pubmed>18327258</pubmed>
  5. <pubmed>18417549</pubmed>
  6. <pubmed>18272593</pubmed>
  7. <pubmed>8790332</pubmed>
  8. <pubmed>20532235</pubmed>
  9. <pubmed>16868080</pubmed>
  10. <pubmed>15936751</pubmed>
  11. <pubmed>19783738</pubmed>
  12. <pubmed>17610861</pubmed> | Dev Biol
  13. <pubmed>19399989</pubmed>

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External Links

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2020, January 20) Embryology Developmental Signals - Sonic hedgehog. Retrieved from

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© Dr Mark Hill 2020, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G