Wing tips: The wing disc as a platform for studying Hedgehog signaling

Methods. 2014 Jun 15;68(1):199-206. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2014.02.002. Epub 2014 Feb 17.


Hedgehog (Hh) signal transduction is necessary for the development of most mammalian tissues and can go awry and cause birth defects or cancer. Hh signaling was initially described in Drosophila, and much of what we know today about mammalian Hh signaling was directly guided by discoveries in the fly. Indeed, Hh signaling is a wonderful example of the use of non-vertebrate model organisms to make basic discoveries that lead to new disease treatment. The first pharmaceutical to treat hyperactive Hh signaling in Basal Cell Carcinoma was released in 2012, approximately 30 years after the isolation of Hh mutants in Drosophila. The study of Hh signaling has been greatly facilitated by the imaginal wing disc, a tissue with terrific experimental advantages. Studies using the wing disc have led to an understanding of Hh ligand processing, packaging into particles for transmission, secretion, reception, signal transduction, target gene activation, and tissue patterning. Here we describe the imaginal wing disc, how Hh patterns this tissue, and provide methods to use wing discs to study Hh signaling in Drosophila. The tools and approaches we highlight form the cornerstone of research efforts in many laboratories that use Drosophila to study Hh signaling, and are essential for ongoing discoveries.

Keywords: Gal4; Gli; Morphogen; Patched; Smoothened; SuFu.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics*
  • Molecular Biology / methods
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Wings, Animal / growth & development
  • Wings, Animal / metabolism


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • hh protein, Drosophila