Background: The Hedgehog (Hh) family of secreted proteins is involved in a number of developmental processes as well as in cancer. Genetic and biochemical data suggest that the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) receptor is composed of at least two proteins: the tumor suppressor protein Patched (Ptc) and the seven-transmembrane protein Smoothened (Smo).
Results: Using a biochemical assay for activation of the transcription factor Gli, a downstream component of the Hh pathway, we show here that Smo functions as the signaling component of the Shh receptor, and that this activity can be blocked by Ptc. The inhibition of Smo by Ptc can be relieved by the addition of Shh. Furthermore, oncogenic forms of Smo are insensitive to Ptc repression in this assay. Mapping of the Smo domains required for binding to Ptc and for signaling revealed that the Smo-Ptc interaction involves mainly the amino terminus of Smo, and that the third intracellular loop and the seventh transmembrane domain are required for signaling.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate that Smo is the signaling component of a multicomponent Hh receptor complex and that Ptc is a ligand-regulated inhibitor of Smo. Different domains of Smo are involved in Ptc binding and activation of a Gli reporter construct. The latter requires the third intracellular loop and the seventh transmembrane domain of Smo, regions often involved in coupling to G proteins. No changes in the levels of cyclic AMP or calcium associated with such pathways could be detected following receptor activation, however.