Sonic Hedgehog, VACTERL, and Fanconi anemia: Pathogenetic connections and therapeutic implications

Am J Med Genet A. 2015 Nov;167A(11):2594-8. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.37257. Epub 2015 Jul 21.


Three systems with VACTERL association findings- mutations of the Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling pathway in mice, murine adriamycin teratogenicity, and human Fanconi anemia (FA) pathway mutations, may all involve a similar mechanism. SHH is up-regulated in irradiated cells, and DNA breaks common with radiation damage in the adriamycin and FA systems are plausible signals for such effects, which would affect development. Since FA related DNA breakage occurs throughout life, SHH disturbances may account for later FA related findings involving hematopoietic and malignancy issues. In support, androgen, a standard treatment for FA hematologic failure, down-regulates SHH, and common FA malignancies such as squamous cell carcinomas and acute myeloid leukemia have been linked to enhanced SHH function. This suggests that interventions lowering SHH levels may be useful therapeutically. Also supporting a connection between pre- and post- natal findings, the frequency and number of VACTERL anomalies with FA correlate with the severity and onset of hematopoietic and malignancy issues. In FA, radial anomalies are the most common of these defects, followed by renal findings, while vertebral and gastrointestinal anomalies are relatively uncommon, a pattern that differs from observations of the VACTERL association. Genes with more severe effects also show a greatly increased incidence of brain abnormalities, and a paucity of such findings with other FA genes suggests that brain development is relatively refractory to SHH related effects, accounting for the rarity of such findings with the association.

Keywords: DNA breakage; Fanconi anemia; VACTERL association; adriamycin; sonic hedgehog.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anal Canal / abnormalities*
  • Anal Canal / pathology
  • Animals
  • DNA Damage
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Esophagus / abnormalities*
  • Esophagus / pathology
  • Fanconi Anemia / complications*
  • Fanconi Anemia / pathology
  • Fanconi Anemia / therapy*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / complications*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / pathology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / therapy*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / abnormalities*
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital / complications*
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital / pathology
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital / therapy*
  • Spine / abnormalities*
  • Spine / pathology
  • Trachea / abnormalities*
  • Trachea / pathology


  • Hedgehog Proteins

Supplementary concepts

  • VACTERL association