Sonic hedgehog: restricted expression and limb dysmorphologies

J Anat. 2003 Jan;202(1):13-20. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-7580.2003.00148.x.


Sonic hedgehog, SHH, is required for patterning the limb. The array of skeletal elements that compose the hands and feet, and the ordered arrangement of these bones to form the pattern of fingers and toes are dependent on SHH. The mechanism of action of SHH in the limb is not fully understood; however, an aspect that appears to be important is the localized, asymmetric expression of Shh. Shh is expressed in the posterior margin of the limb bud in a region defined as the zone of polarizing activity (ZPA). Analysis of mouse mutants which have polydactyly (extra toes) shows that asymmetric expression of Shh is lost due to the appearance of an ectopic domain of expression in the anterior limb margin. One such polydactylous mouse mutant, sasquatch (Ssq), maps to the corresponding chromosomal region of the human condition pre-axial polydactyly (PPD) and thus represents a model for this condition. The mutation responsible for Ssq is located 1 Mb away from the Shh gene; however, the mutation disrupts a long-range cis-acting regulator of Shh expression. By inference, human pre-axial polydactyly results from a similar disruption of Shh expression. Other human congenital abnormalities also map near the pre-axial polydactyly locus, suggesting a major chromosomal region for limb dysmorphologies. The distinct phenotypes range from loss of all bones of the hands and feet to syndactyly of the soft tissue and fusion of the digits. We discuss the role played by Shh expression in mouse mutant phenotypes and the human limb dysmorphologies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Embryonic Induction / genetics*
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Humans
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital / embryology*
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mesoderm / physiology*
  • Morphogenesis / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*


  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • LMBR1 protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins
  • SHH protein, human
  • Trans-Activators