Background & Aims: The intestinal epithelium is a homeostatic system in which differentiated cells are in dynamic equilibrium with rapidly cycling precursor cells. Wnt signaling regulates intestinal epithelial precursor cell fate and proliferation. Homeostatic systems exist by virtue of negative feedback loops, and we have previously identified the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway as a potential negative feedback signal in the colonic epithelium. Indian hedgehog (Ihh) is produced by the differentiated enterocytes and negatively regulates Wnt signaling in intestinal precursor cells. We studied the role of members of the Hh signaling family in the intestine using a conditional genetic approach. Methods: We inactivated the Hh receptor Patched1 (Ptch1) in adult mice, resulting in constitutive activation of the Hh signaling pathway. Effects on colonic mucosal homeostasis were examined. Colon tissues were examined by immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, transmission electron microscopy, and real-time polymerase chain reaction. Results: Ihh but not Sonic hedgehog (Shh) was expressed in colonic epithelium. Expression of Ptch1 and Gli1 was restricted to the mesenchyme. Constitutive activation of Hh signaling resulted in accumulation of myofibroblasts and colonic crypt hypoplasia. A reduction in the number of epithelial precursor cells was observed with premature development into the enterocyte lineage and inhibition of Wnt signaling. Activation of Hh signaling resulted in induction of the expression of bone morphogenetic proteins (Bmp) and increased Bmp signaling in the epithelium. Conclusions: Hh signaling acts in a negative feedback loop from differentiated cells via the mesenchyme to the colonic epithelial precursor cell compartment in the adult mouse.
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