Hedgehog Signaling and the Gli Code in Stem Cells, Cancer, and Metastases

Sci. Signal., 22 November 2011
Vol. 4, Issue 200, p. pt9
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2002540

Hedgehog Signaling and the Gli Code in Stem Cells, Cancer, and Metastases

  1. Ariel Ruiz i Altaba1,*
  1. 1University of Geneva Medical School, 8242 Centre Médicale Universitaire, 1 rue Michel Servet, CH-1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.
  1. *Presenter and corresponding author. E-mail: Ariel.RuizAltaba{at}unige.ch
A Presentation from the 1st International HEALING Meeting: Hh-Gli Signaling in Development, Regeneration, and Disease, Kolymbari, Crete, 23 to 25 June 2011.


The Hedgehog (Hh)–Gli signaling pathway is an essential pathway involved in development and cancer. It controls the Gli code—the sum of all activator and repressor functions of the Gli transcription factors. Through the Gli code, and Gli1 in particular, it modulates the fate and behavior of stem and cancer stem cells, as well as tumor growth and survival in many human cancer types. It also affects recurrence and metastasis and is enhanced in advanced tumors, where it promotes an embryonic stem (ES) cell–like gene expression signature. A central component of this signature, Nanog, is critical for glioblastoma and cancer stem cell survival and expansion. Gli1 activity is also enhanced by several oncogenic proteins, including Ras, Myc, and Akt, and by loss of tumor suppressors, such as p53 and PTEN. The oncogenic load boosts Gli1 levels, which supports tumor progression, and promotes a critical threshold of Gli1 activity that allows cells to enter the metastatic transition. In colon cancers, this transition is defined by enhanced Hh-Gli and, surprisingly, by repressed Wnt-Tcf signaling. Together our data support a model in which the Gli code, and Gli1 in particular, acts as a key sensor that responds to both Hh signals and the oncogenic load. We hypothesize that, in turn, the Gli-regulated ES-like factors induce a reprogramming event in cancer stem cells that promotes high invasion, growth and/or metastasis. Targeting the Gli code, the autoregulatory Gli1-Nanog module and interacting partners and pathways thus offers new therapeutic possibilities.


A. Ruiz i Altaba, Hedgehog Signaling and the Gli Code in Stem Cells, Cancer, and Metastases. Sci. Signal. 4, pt9 (2011).

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