The Hedgehog (HH) signalling pathway is one of the major pathways controlling cell differentiation and proliferation during human development. This pathway is complex, with HH function influenced by inhibitors, promotors, interactions with other signalling pathways, and non-genetic and cellular factors. Many aspects of this pathway are not yet clarified. The main features of Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signalling are discussed in relation to its function in human development. The possible role of SHH will be considered using examples of holoprosencephaly and short-rib polydactyly (SRP) syndromes. In these syndromes, there is wide variability in phenotype even with the same genetic mutation, so that other factors must influence the outcome. SHH mutations were the first identified genetic causes of holoprosencephaly, but many other genes and environmental factors can cause malformations in the holoprosencephaly spectrum. Many patients with SRP have genetic defects affecting primary cilia, structures found on most mammalian cells which are thought to be necessary for canonical HH signal transduction. Although SHH signalling is affected in both these genetic conditions, there is little overlap in phenotype. Possible explanations will be canvassed, using data from published human and animal studies. Implications for the understanding of SHH signalling in humans will be discussed.
Keywords: Sonic Hedgehog; human holoprosencephaly; short-rib polydactyly syndromes.