Hedgehog signaling and its molecular perspective with cholesterol: a comprehensive review

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15 Scopus citations


Hedgehog (Hh) signaling is evolutionarily conserved and plays an instructional role in embryonic morphogenesis, organogenesis in various animals, and the central nervous system organization. Multiple feedback mechanisms dynamically regulate this pathway in a spatiotemporal and context-dependent manner to confer differential patterns in cell fate determination. Hh signaling is complex due to canonical and non-canonical mechanisms coordinating cell–cell communication. In addition, studies have demonstrated a regulatory framework of Hh signaling and shown that cholesterol is vital for Hh ligand biogenesis, signal generation, and transduction from the cell surface to intracellular space. Studies have shown the importance of a specific cholesterol pool, termed accessible cholesterol, which serves as a second messenger, conveying signals between smoothened (Smo) and patched 1 (Ptch1) across the plasma and ciliary membranes. Remarkably, recent high-resolution structural and molecular studies shed new light on the interplay between Hh signaling and cholesterol in membrane biology. These studies elucidated novel mechanistic insight into the release and dispersal of cholesterol-anchored Hh and the basis of Hh recognition by Ptch1. Additionally, the putative model of Smo activation by cholesterol binding and/or modification and Ptch1 antagonization of Smo has been explicated. However, the coupling mechanism of Hh signaling and cholesterol offered a new regulatory principle in cell biology: how effector molecules of the Hh signal network react to and remodel cholesterol accessibility in the membrane and selectively activate Hh signaling proteins thereof. Recognizing the biological importance of cholesterol in Hh signaling activation and transduction opens the door for translational research to develop novel therapeutic strategies. This review looks in-depth at canonical and non-canonical Hh signaling and the distinct proposed model of cholesterol-mediated regulation of Hh signaling components, facilitating a more sophisticated understanding of the Hh signal network and cholesterol biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number266
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Canonical signaling
  • Cholesterol
  • Hedgehog
  • Non-canonical signaling
  • Plasma membrane
  • Ptch1
  • Smo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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