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Chromosome Res. 2012 Jan;20(1):247-58. doi: 10.1007/s10577-011-9254-z.

Sex and hedgehog: roles of genes in the hedgehog signaling pathway in mammalian sexual differentiation.

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Reproductive Developmental Biology Group, Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicity, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 111 TW Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.


The chromosome status of the mammalian embryo initiates a multistage process of sexual development in which the bipotential reproductive system establishes itself as either male or female. These events are governed by intricate cell-cell and interorgan communication that is regulated by multiple signaling pathways. The hedgehog signaling pathway was originally identified for its key role in the development of Drosophila, but is now recognized as a critical developmental regulator in many species, including humans. In addition to its developmental roles, the hedgehog signaling pathway also modulates adult organ function, and misregulation of this pathway often leads to diseases, such as cancer. The hedgehog signaling pathway acts through its morphogenetic ligands that signal from ligand-producing cells to target cells over a specified distance. The target cells then respond in a graded manner based on the concentration of the ligands that they are exposed to. Through this unique mechanism of action, the hedgehog signaling pathway elicits cell fate determination, epithelial-mesenchymal interactions, and cellular homeostasis. Here, we review current findings on the roles of hedgehog signaling in the sexually dimorphic development of the reproductive organs with an emphasis on mammals and comparative evidence in other species.

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