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J Clin Invest. 2009 Feb;119(2):267-77. doi: 10.1172/JCI36376. Epub 2009 Jan 26.

Hedgehog signaling has a protective effect in glucocorticoid-induced mouse neonatal brain injury through an 11betaHSD2-dependent mechanism.

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Department of Pediatrics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Institute for Regeneration Medicine, UCSF, San Francisco, California, USA.


Glucocorticoids (GCs) are administered to human fetuses at risk of premature delivery and to infants with life-threatening respiratory and cardiac conditions. However, there are ongoing concerns about adverse effects of GC treatment on the developing human brain, although the precise molecular mechanisms underlying GC-induced brain injury are unclear. Here, we identified what we believe to be novel cross-antagonistic interactions of Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and GC signaling in proliferating mouse cerebellar granule neuron precursors (CGNPs). Chronic GC treatment (from P0 through P7) in mouse pups inhibited Shh-induced proliferation and upregulation of expression of N-myc, Gli1, and D-type cyclin protein in CGNPs. Conversely, acute GC treatment (on P7 only) caused transient apoptosis. Shh signaling antagonized these effects of GCs, in part by induction of 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11betaHSD2). Importantly, 11betaHSD2 antagonized the effects of the GCs corticosterone, hydrocortisone, and prednisolone, but not the synthetic GC dexamethasone. Our findings indicate that Shh signaling is protective in the setting of GC-induced mouse neonatal brain injury. Furthermore, they led us to propose that 11betaHSD2-sensitive GCs (e.g., hydrocortisone) should be used in preference to dexamethasone in neonatal human infants because of the potential for reduced neurotoxicity.

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