Secreted Hedgehog (Hh) ligands play important roles in growth and patterning of various tissues during development, and recent studies have uncovered transient reactivation of Hh signaling during injury and repair of several adult tissues. There is compelling evidence that sustained Hh signaling, which may be initiated during an aberrant response to injury, is associated with a wide variety of human malignancies. Moreover, uncontrolled Hh pathway activity may be required for tumor maintenance, since blockade of Hh signaling inhibits the growth of several types of 'Hh-activated'tumor cells. It has been proposed that only those cell types which utilize the Hh pathway during embryogenesis or repair are prone to Hh pathway-associated tumorigenesis, but this concept has not been rigorously tested. Gastric cancer is the 2nd most common cause of cancer mortality worldwide, and the great majority of gastric tumors are associated with elevated Hh signaling activity, attributed to abnormally high expression of the Hh ligands Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and/or Indian hedgehog (Ihh). We have generated a robust model of gastric adenocarcinoma by constitutively activating Hh signaling in mouse stomach, pointing to a causal role for deregulated Hh signaling in the pathogenesis of these aggressive tumors in humans. However, there is presently little insight into how aberrations in Hh signaling contribute to gastric tumorigenesis, which progenitor cells give rise to 'Hh-activated'gastric cancers, and whether Hh signaling is required for maintenance of established tumors. Moreover, the precise functions of Hh signaling in normal stomach have not yet been established, and there is a little information regarding changes in Hh signaling activity during gastric injury and repair, which can predispose to cancer development.
In Aim 1, we propose to identify the cell types expressing Hh pathway components, and determine the function of Hh signaling, in normal and pathologically altered stomach.
In Aim 2, we will explore the function of Hh signaling in gastric tumor biology and maintenance. The proposed studies will provide new insights into the functions of Hh signaling in normal and injured stomach, and the role of deregulated Hh signaling in the pathogenesis of gastric cancer.
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