Background & aims: Gastric epithelial renewal is an asymmetric process. A stem cell located halfway up the tubular unit gives rise to both a basal gland region and a luminal pit compartment, but the mechanisms responsible for the maintenance of this asymmetry are obscure. We investigated whether Sonic hedgehog (Shh), an established polarizing signal protein during development, is expressed and functional in the adult human and murine stomach.
Methods: Expression of Shh and putative transcriptional targets was investigated using immunoblot and immunohistochemistry. Mice were treated with the Shh inhibitor cyclopamine and examined for expression levels of Shh targets and proliferation of gastric epithelial cells.
Results: Shh was expressed in the stomach. In cyclopamine-treated mice, we observed decreased expression of HNF3beta, Islet (Isl)-1 and BMP4, 3 putative Shh target genes. Inhibition of Shh markedly enhanced gastric epithelial proliferation and affected the cell cycle of gastric epithelial gland cells, whereas pit cells remained unaffected.
Conclusions: Shh controls the expression of at least 3 factors important for epithelial differentiation and is a negative regulator of gastric gland cell proliferation. Shh is a candidate polarizing signal in the maintenance of gastric pit-gland asymmetry.