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Development. 2005 Dec;132(23):5249-60.

Gli3 acts as a repressor downstream of Ihh in regulating two distinct steps of chondrocyte differentiation.

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Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany.


During endochondral ossification, the secreted growth factor Indian hedgehog (Ihh) regulates several differentiation steps. It interacts with a second secreted factor, parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP), to regulate the onset of hypertrophic differentiation, and it regulates chondrocyte proliferation and ossification of the perichondrium independently of PTHrP. To investigate how the Ihh signal is translated in the different target tissues, we analyzed the role of the zinc-finger transcription factor Gli3, which acts downstream of hedgehog signals in other organs. Loss of Gli3 in Ihh mutants restores chondrocyte proliferation and delays the accelerated onset of hypertrophic differentiation observed in Ihh-/- mutants. Furthermore the expression of the Ihh target genes patched (Ptch) and PTHrP is reactivated in Ihh-/-;Gli3-/- mutants. Gli3 seems thus to act as a strong repressor of Ihh signals in regulating chondrocyte differentiation. In addition, loss of Gli3 in mice that overexpress Ihh in chondrocytes accelerates the onset of hypertrophic differentiation by reducing the domain and possibly the level of PTHrP expression. Careful analysis of chondrocyte differentiation in Gli3-/- mutants revealed that Gli3 negatively regulates the differentiation of distal, low proliferating chondrocytes into columnar, high proliferating cells. Our results suggest a model in which the Ihh/Gli3 system regulates two distinct steps of chondrocyte differentiation: (1) the switch from distal into columnar chondrocytes is repressed by Gli3 in a PTHrP-independent mechanism; (2) the transition from proliferating into hypertrophic chondrocytes is regulated by Gli3-dependent expression of PTHrP. Furthermore, by regulating distal chondrocyte differentiation, Gli3 seems to position the domain of PTHrP expression.

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