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J Neurosci. 1997 Aug 1;17(15):5891-9.

Sonic hedgehog promotes the survival of specific CNS neuron populations and protects these cells from toxic insult In vitro.

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  • 1Ontogeny, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Sonic hedgehog (Shh), an axis-determining secreted protein, is expressed during early vertebrate embryogenesis in the notochord and ventral neural tube. In this site it plays a role in the phenotypic specification of ventral neurons along the length of the CNS. For example, Shh induces the differentiation of motor neurons in the spinal cord and dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain. Shh expression, however, persists beyond this induction period, and we have asked whether the protein shows novel activities beyond phenotype specification. Using cultures derived from embryonic day 14.5 (E14. 5) rat ventral mesencephalon, we show that Shh is also trophic for dopaminergic neurons. Interestingly, Shh not only promotes dopaminergic neuron survival, but also promotes the survival of midbrain GABA-immunoreactive (GABA-ir) neurons. In cultures derived from the E15-16 striatum, Shh promotes the survival of GABA-ir interneurons to the exclusion of any other cell type. Cultures derived from E15-16 ventral spinal cord reveal that Shh is again trophic for interneurons, many of which are GABA-ir and some of which express the Lim-1/2 nuclear marker, but it does not appear to support motorneuron survival. Shh does not support the survival of sympathetic or dorsal root ganglion neurons. Finally, using the midbrain cultures, we show that in the presence of MPP+, a highly specific neurotoxin, Shh prevents dopaminergic neuron death that normally would have occurred. Thus Shh may have therapeutic value as a protective agent in neurodegenerative disease.

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