Small molecule modulation of HH-GLI signaling: current leads, trials and tribulations

Biochem Pharmacol. 2010 Sep 1;80(5):712-23. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2010.04.016. Epub 2010 Apr 20.


Many human sporadic cancers have been recently shown to require the activity of the Hedgehog-GLI pathway for sustained growth. The survival and expansion of cancer stem cells is also HH-GLI dependent. Here we review the advances on the modulation of HH-GLI signaling by small molecules. We focus on both natural compounds and synthetic molecules that target upstream pathway components, mostly SMOOTHENED, and those that target the last steps of the pathway, the GLI transcription factors. In this review we have sought to provide some bases for useful comparisons, listing original assays used and sources to facilitate comparisons of IC50 values. This area is a rapidly expanding field where biology, medicine and chemistry intersect, both in academia and industry. We also highlight current clinical trials, with positive results in early stages. While we have tried to be exhaustive regarding the molecules, not all data is in the public domain yet. Indeed, we have opted to avoid listing chemical structures but these can be easily found in the references given. Finally, we are hopeful that the best molecules will soon reach the patients but caution about the lack of investment on compounds that lack tight IP positions. While the market in developed nations is expected to compensate the investment and risk of making HH-GLI modulators, other sources or plans must be available for developing nations and poor patient populations. The promise of curing cancer recalls the once revered dream of El Dorado, which taught us that not everything that GLI-tters is gold.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hedgehog Proteins / agonists
  • Hedgehog Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transcription Factors / agonists
  • Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1


  • GLI1 protein, human
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1