The Hedgehog (HH) signaling pathway is critical in embryonic development, stem cell biology, tissue homeostasis, chemoattraction and synapse formation. Irregular HH signaling is associated with a number of disease conditions including congenital disorders and cancer. In particular, deregulation of HH signaling has been linked to skin, brain, lung, colon and pancreatic cancers. Key mediators of the HH signaling pathway are the 12-pass membrane protein Patched (PTC), the 7-pass membrane protein Smoothened (SMO) and the GLI transcription factors. PTC shares homology with the RND family of small-molecule transporters and it has been proposed that it interferes with SMO through metabolites. Although a conclusive picture is lacking, substantial efforts are made to identify and understand natural metabolites/sterols, including cholesterol, vitamin D3, oxysterols and glucocorticoides, that may be affected by, or influence the HH signaling cascade at the level of PTC and SMO. In this review we will elaborate the role of metabolites in HH signaling with a focus on oxysterols, and discuss advancements in modern analytical approaches in the field.
A toxic plant, Veratrum album (ssp. viriscens), was found to have an inhibitory effect on Hedgehog (Hh), a developmental signaling pathway that has been shown to be active during development, in adult stem cells and in numerous human tumors. Based on earlier studies it was believed that the known Hh inhibitor cyclopamine was present in V. album (ssp. viriscens). Here we show that instead of cyclopamine, dihydroveratramine (DHV) was found in V. album (ssp. viriscens). These compounds are easily mistaken for each other, as both substances share the same molecular weight, and the same main MS/MS fragments. DHV was found to be a less potent Hh inhibitor compared to cyclopamine. This is the first reported occurrence of DVH in nature.
The effect of acid treatment of cyclopamine, a natural antagonist of the hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway and a potential anti-cancer drug, has been studied. Previous reports have shown that under acidic conditions, as in the stomach, cyclopamine is less effective. Also, it has been stated that cyclopamine converts to veratramine, which has side effects such as hemolysis. In this study, we examined in detail the influence of acidification on structure and activity of cyclopamine. We found that of acidified cyclopamine converts to two previously unreported isomers, which we have called cyclopamine (S) and cyclopamine (X). These have likely gone undetected because cyclopamine is often analyzed with fast and hence lower resolving chromatographic methods. Compared to natural cyclopamine, these cyclopamine isomers have a significantly reduced effect on the ciliary transport of the Hh receptor smoothened, and reduced inhibition on the Hedgehog signaling pathway. The side effects of these isomers are unknown. Our findings can partly explain a reduced efficiency of cyclopamine in a gastric environment, and may help with the rational design of more pH independent cyclopamine analogues.
Oxysterols are important in numerous biological processes, including cell signaling. Here we present an automated filtration/filter backflush-solid phase extraction-liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (AFFL-SPE-LC-MS/MS) method for determining 24-hydroxysterol and the isomers 25-hydroxycholesterol and 22S-hydroxycholesterol that enables simplified sample preparation, high sensitivity (~25 pg/mL cell lysis sample) and low sample variability. Only one sample transfer step was required for the entire process of cell lysis, derivatization and determination of selected oxysterols. During the procedure, autoxidation of cholesterol, a potential/common problem using standard analytical methods, was found to be negligible. The reversed phase AFFL-SPE-LC-MS/MS method utilizing a 1mm inner diameter column was validated, and used to determine levels of the oxysterol analytes in mouse fibroblast cell lines SSh-LII and NIH-3T3, and human cancer cell lines, BxPC3, HCT-15 and HCT-116. In BxPC3 cells, the AFFL-SPE-LC-MS/MS method was used to detect significant differences in 24S-OHC levels between vimentin+ and vimentin- heterogenous sub-populations. The methodology also allowed monitoring of significant alterations in 24S-OHC levels upon delivery of the Hedgehog (Hh) antagonist MS-0022 in HCT-116 colorectal carcinoma cell lines.
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