Background: The hedgehog pathway plays a critical role in the development of prostate. However, the role of the hedgehog pathway in prostate cancer is not clear. Prostate cancer is the second most prevalent cause of cancer death in American men. Therefore, identification of novel therapeutic targets for prostate cancer has significant clinical implications.
Results: Here we report that activation of the hedgehog pathway occurs frequently in advanced human prostate cancer. We find that high levels of hedgehog target genes, PTCH1 and hedgehog-interacting protein (HIP), are detected in over 70% of prostate tumors with Gleason scores 8-10, but in only 22% of tumors with Gleason scores 3-6. Furthermore, four available metastatic tumors all have high expression of PTCH1 and HIP. To identify the mechanism of the hedgehog signaling activation, we examine expression of Su(Fu) protein, a negative regulator of the hedgehog pathway. We find that Su(Fu) protein is undetectable in 11 of 27 PTCH1 positive tumors, two of them contain somatic loss-of-function mutations of Su(Fu). Furthermore, expression of sonic hedgehog protein is detected in majority of PTCH1 positive tumors (24 out of 27). High levels of hedgehog target genes are also detected in four prostate cancer cell lines (TSU, DU145, LN-Cap and PC3). We demonstrate that inhibition of hedgehog signaling by smoothened antagonist, cyclopamine, suppresses hedgehog signaling, down-regulates cell invasiveness and induces apoptosis. In addition, cancer cells expressing Gli1 under the CMV promoter are resistant to cyclopamine-mediated apoptosis. All these data suggest a significant role of the hedgehog pathway for cellular functions of prostate cancer cells.
Conclusion: Our data indicate that activation of the hedgehog pathway, through loss of Su(Fu) or overexpression of sonic hedgehog, may involve tumor progression and metastases of prostate cancer. Thus, targeted inhibition of hedgehog signaling may have significant implications of prostate cancer therapeutics.