Transmission of the Hedgehog signal across the plasma membrane by Smoothened is proposed to be triggered by its direct interaction with cholesterol. But how is cholesterol, an abundant lipid, regulated tightly enough to control a signaling system that can cause birth defects and cancer? Using toxin-based sensors that distinguish between distinct pools of cholesterol, we find here that Smoothened activation and Hedgehog signaling are driven by a biochemically defined fraction of membrane cholesterol, termed accessible cholesterol. Increasing accessible cholesterol levels by depletion of sphingomyelin, which sequesters cholesterol in complexes, potentiates Hedgehog signaling. By inactivating the transporter-like protein Patched 1, Hedgehog ligands trigger an increase in cholesterol accessibility in the ciliary membrane, the subcellular location for Smoothened signaling. Thus, compartmentalization of Hedgehog signaling in the primary cilium may allow cholesterol accessibility to be used as a second messenger to mediate the communication between Patched 1 and Smoothened, without causing collateral effects on other cellular processes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)