Disruption of a hedgehog-foxf1-rspo2 signaling axis leads to tracheomalacia and a loss of sox9+ tracheal chondrocytes

Dis Model Mech. 2020 Dec 16;14(2):dmm046573. doi: 10.1242/dmm.046573. Online ahead of print.


Congenital tracheomalacia, resulting from incomplete tracheal cartilage development, is a relatively common birth defect that severely impairs breathing in neonates. Mutations in the Hedgehog (HH) pathway and downstream Gli transcription factors are associated with tracheomalacia in patients and mouse models; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms are unclear. Using multiple HH/Gli mouse mutants including one that mimics Pallister-Hall Syndrome, we show that excessive Gli repressor activity prevents specification of tracheal chondrocytes. Lineage tracing experiments show that Sox9+ chondrocytes arise from HH-responsive splanchnic mesoderm in the fetal foregut that expresses the transcription factor Foxf1. Disrupted HH/Gli signaling results in 1) loss of Foxf1 which in turn is required to support Sox9+ chondrocyte progenitors and 2) a dramatic reduction in Rspo2, a secreted ligand that potentiates Wnt signaling known to be required for chondrogenesis. These results reveal a HH-Foxf1-Rspo2 signaling axis that governs tracheal cartilage development and informs the etiology of tracheomalacia.

Keywords: Cartilage; Hedgehog; Trachea; Tracheomalacia.