Tick-tock hedgehog-mutual crosstalk with liver circadian clock promotes liver steatosis

J Hepatol. 2019 Jun;70(6):1192-1202. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2019.01.022. Epub 2019 Feb 1.


Background & aims: The mammalian circadian clock controls various aspects of liver metabolism and integrates nutritional signals. Recently, we described Hedgehog (Hh) signaling as a novel regulator of liver lipid metabolism. Herein, we investigated crosstalk between hepatic Hh signaling and circadian rhythm.

Methods: Diurnal rhythms of Hh signaling were investigated in liver and hepatocytes from mice with ablation of Smoothened (SAC-KO) and crossbreeds with PER2::LUC reporter mice. By using genome-wide screening, qPCR, immunostaining, ELISA and RNAi experiments in vitro we identified relevant transcriptional regulatory steps. Shotgun lipidomics and metabolic cages were used for analysis of metabolic alterations and behavior.

Results: Hh signaling showed diurnal oscillations in liver and hepatocytes in vitro. Correspondingly, the level of Indian Hh, oscillated in serum. Depletion of the clock gene Bmal1 in hepatocytes resulted in significant alterations in the expression of Hh genes. Conversely, SAC-KO mice showed altered expression of clock genes, confirmed by RNAi against Gli1 and Gli3. Genome-wide screening revealed that SAC-KO hepatocytes showed time-dependent alterations in various genes, particularly those associated with lipid metabolism. The clock/hedgehog module further plays a role in rhythmicity of steatosis, and in the response of the liver to a high-fat diet or to differently timed starvation.

Conclusions: For the first time, Hh signaling in hepatocytes was found to be time-of-day dependent and to feed back on the circadian clock. Our findings suggest an integrative role of Hh signaling, mediated mainly by GLI factors, in maintaining homeostasis of hepatic lipid metabolism by balancing the circadian clock.

Lay summary: The results of our investigation show for the first time that the Hh signaling in hepatocytes is time-of-day dependent, leading to differences not only in transcript levels but also in the amount of Hh ligands in peripheral blood. Conversely, Hh signaling is able to feed back to the circadian clock.

Keywords: Circadian Rhythm, Steatosis; Hedgehog; Hepatocytes; Liver.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology*
  • Fatty Liver / etiology*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / physiology*
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Smoothened Receptor / physiology
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1 / physiology
  • Zinc Finger Protein Gli3 / physiology


  • Gli1 protein, mouse
  • Gli3 protein, mouse
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Smo protein, mouse
  • Smoothened Receptor
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1
  • Zinc Finger Protein Gli3
  • ihh protein, mouse