Patients with advanced gastric cancer usually have a poor prognosis and limited therapeutic options. Overcoming this challenge requires novel targets and effective drugs. The Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway plays a crucial role in the development of the gastrointestinal tract and maintenance of the physiologic function of the stomach. Aberrantly activated Hh signaling is implicated in carcinogenesis as well as maintenance of cancer stem cells. Somatic mutations in the components of Hh signaling (PTCH1 and SMO) have been shown to be a major cause of basal cell carcinoma, and dozens of Hh inhibitors have been developed. To date, two inhibitors (GDC-0449 and LDE225) have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat basal cell carcinoma and medulloblastoma. Here, we review the role of the Hh signaling in the carcinogenesis and progression of gastric cancer and summarize recent findings on Hh inhibitors in gastric cancer. Hedgehog signaling is often aberrantly activated and plays an important role during inflammation and carcinogenesis of gastric epithelial cells. Further study of the precise mechanisms of Hh signaling in this disease is needed for the validation of therapeutic targets and evaluation of the clinical utility of Hh inhibitors for gastric cancer.
Keywords: Cancer stem cells; Gastric cancer; Hedgehog signaling; Small-molecule inhibitor; Targeted therapy.