Mechanistic Studies of Vertebrate Hedgehog Signaling

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Mechanistic Studies of Vertebrate Hedgehog Signaling

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Title: Mechanistic Studies of Vertebrate Hedgehog Signaling
Author: Tukachinsky, Hanna
Citation: Tukachinsky, Hanna. 2012. Mechanistic Studies of Vertebrate Hedgehog Signaling. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Metazoans use Hedgehog signaling to direct many stages of embryonic development, and deregulation of this pathway is implicated in many types of cancer. I investigated several steps of Hedgehog pathway transduction that were poorly understood in mechanistic terms. The mature Hedgehog ligand is produced by a self-proteolysis reaction that covalently attaches a cholesterol molecule to the signaling half of the protein. I showed that the catalytic cysteine forms a disulfide bridge that is essential for the folding and function of the C-terminal tail of Hedgehog, and identified two protein disulfide isomerases that remodel this bridge to free the catalytic thiol group after folding is complete. Using pulse chase assays to follow Hedgehog processing, I demonstrated that the self-proteolysis reaction takes place in the endoplasmic reticulum, that the cleaved C-terminal tail of Hedgehog is degraded before moving to the Golgi, and that Hedgehog mutants defective in processing get degraded in their entirety by the same route. Lipidated Hedgehog ligand requires the transmembrane protein Dispatched for secretion. I devised a system to test Dispatched function in cultured cells, and showed that some inactive Dispatched mutants fail to bind Hedgehog, while others bind more tightly than the wild type protein. Scube2 was implicated as a Hedgehog pathway component in zebrafish genetic studies. I showed that Scube2 is a secreted protein that binds Hedgehog via its cholesterol adduct and solubilizes it in aqueous media. Dispatched and Scube2 bind Hedgehog on opposing faces, and they function synergistically to release it from the membrane. Vertebrate Hedgehog signaling relies on intraflagellar transport through an antenna-like organelle called the primary cilium. The Hedgehog receptor Patched and transducer protein Smoothened localize to primary cilia in a mutually exclusive pattern, depending on Hedgehog ligand presence. I showed that cytoplasmic components of the pathway Suppressor of Fused (SuFu, a pathway inhibitor) and Glioma-associated oncogene transcription factors (the Gli family, the effectors of the pathway) localize to primary cilia and accumulate there when Smoothened is activated. SuFu and Gli form a complex that dissociates when the pathway is turned on, and this dissociation depends on trafficking through the cilium.
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