Hedgehog (Hh) signaling is employed in controlling cell fates in most developing tissues and organs, as well as during many regeneration events. Defects in Hh signaling lead to birth defects and cancer. Many mechanistic mysteries remain regarding how an Hh signal is transduced. Using high-throughput RNAi screening, we identified Neuropilins (Nrp) 1 and 2 as novel, specific regulators of vertebrate Hh signaling. Nrps are single-pass transmembrane proteins implicated in the reception of a diverse set of secreted ligands, including Semaphorins and VEGF165 and in cell adhesion and cell migration. In fibroblasts the inhibition of Hh signal transduction resulting from blocking Nrps is as strong as the effect of blocking cilia formation or blocking Smoothened function. Conversely, over-production of either Nrp sensitizes cells to Hh signals. New components of the Hh pathway are uncovered infrequently;the Nrps were probably missed due to their partial redundancy. Our discovery of two proteins whose functions are required by this important morphogenic pathway has the potential to bring fundamental changes to current models of Hh signaling and to enlarge the understanding of Nrp functions in other signaling pathways.
Aim 1. Determine the mechanism by which Nrps regulate Hh signal transduction. Nrps could influence Hh signal transduction by directly associating with known Hh pathway components, or mediating other signals that converge with Hh transduction, or by altering cell properties or processes that are required for Hh transduction. We will investigate each of these possibilities by determining which steps in Hh signaling are affected, whether cell adhesion or migration changes are involved in the effect of Nrps upon Hh signaling, and what proteins interact directly with Nrps.
Aim 2. Determine which domains of Nrp are needed to support Hh signaling, and whether known Nrp co-receptors, ligands, or effector molecules are capable of Hh pathway cross- regulation. We will investigate which domains contribute to Hh signal transduction in two ways: engineered domain deletions, and a high-throughput screen for point mutations that interfere with Nrp support of Hh signal transduction. Nrps transduce VEGF and Semaphorin signals, acting as co-receptors for VEGF receptors and Plexins, respectively. We will test whether VEGF, VEGF receptor, Plexin receptors, or Semaphorins are involved in the effect of Nrps upon Hh signal transduction.
Aim 3. Investigate how Nrps influence Hh- dependent development and tumorigenesis. Using mice that carry mutations in both Nrp genes, we will control temporal and tissue-specific removal of Nrp functions to test their involvement in several Hh-dependent developmental processes in vivo. Using newly created lentiviruses, which encode specific inhibiting RNAs that block the nrp genes, we will infect primary cultures of Hh-responsive cells and monitor effects on Hh target gene expression.

Public Health Relevance

The Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway is critical for patterning, cell proliferation, and differentiation in many organs and tissues, while damage to Hh transduction can cause major human cancers, so understanding the proteins that receive and process the signals is crucial. We have discovered that pair of proteins called Neuropilin (Nrp) 1 and 2 is required in signal-receiving cells to transduce Hh signals. We will investigate how Nrps affect Hh signaling, which tissues require Nrps for Hh signaling, and how reducing Nrp functions affects Hh pathway-dependent tumorigenesis events.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Development - 2 Study Section (DEV2)
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Maas, Stefan
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Stanford University
Anatomy/Cell Biology
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Ge, Xuecai; Milenkovic, Ljiljana; Suyama, Kaye et al. (2015) Phosphodiesterase 4D acts downstream of Neuropilin to control Hedgehog signal transduction and the growth of medulloblastoma. Elife 4:
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Hayden Gephart, Melanie G; Su, YouRong Sophie; Bandara, Samuel et al. (2013) Neuropilin-2 contributes to tumorigenicity in a mouse model of Hedgehog pathway medulloblastoma. J Neurooncol 115:161-8
Hillman, R Tyler; Feng, Brian Y; Ni, Jun et al. (2011) Neuropilins are positive regulators of Hedgehog signal transduction. Genes Dev 25:2333-46