Synergistic cross-talk of hedgehog and interleukin-6 signaling drives growth of basal cell carcinoma

Int J Cancer. 2018 Dec 1;143(11):2943-2954. doi: 10.1002/ijc.31724. Epub 2018 Oct 1.


Persistent activation of hedgehog (HH)/GLI signaling accounts for the development of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a very frequent nonmelanoma skin cancer with rising incidence. Targeting HH/GLI signaling by approved pathway inhibitors can provide significant therapeutic benefit to BCC patients. However, limited response rates, development of drug resistance, and severe side effects of HH pathway inhibitors call for improved treatment strategies such as rational combination therapies simultaneously inhibiting HH/GLI and cooperative signals promoting the oncogenic activity of HH/GLI. In this study, we identified the interleukin-6 (IL6) pathway as a novel synergistic signal promoting oncogenic HH/GLI via STAT3 activation. Mechanistically, we provide evidence that signal integration of IL6 and HH/GLI occurs at the level of cis-regulatory sequences by co-binding of GLI and STAT3 to common HH-IL6 target gene promoters. Genetic inactivation of Il6 signaling in a mouse model of BCC significantly reduced in vivo tumor growth by interfering with HH/GLI-driven BCC proliferation. Our genetic and pharmacologic data suggest that combinatorial HH-IL6 pathway blockade is a promising approach to efficiently arrest cancer growth in BCC patients.

Keywords: GLI signaling; GLI transcription factors; STAT transcription factors; basal cell carcinoma; hedgehog; interleukin-6 signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism


  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • IL6 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • Trans-Activators