Sonic Hedgehog/GLI3 signaling is critical in regulating digit number, such that Gli3-deficiency results in polydactyly and Shh-deficiency leads to digit number reductions. Anterior-posterior SHH/GLI3 signaling gradients regulate cell cycle factors controlling mesenchymal cell proliferation, while simultaneously regulating Grem1 to coordinate BMP-induced chondrogenesis. SHH/GLI3 also coordinates the expression of additional genes, however their importance in digit formation remain unknown. Utilizing genetic and molecular approaches, we identified HES1 as a key transcriptional regulator downstream of SHH/GLI signaling capable of inducing preaxial polydactyly (PPD), required for Gli3-deficient PPD, and capable of overcoming digit number constraints of Shh-deficiency. Our data indicate that HES1, a direct SHH/GLI signaling target, induces mesenchymal cell proliferation via suppression of Cdkn1b , while inhibiting chondrogenic genes and the anterior autopod boundary regulator, Pax9 . These findings fill gaps in knowledge regarding digit number and patterning, while creating a comprehensive framework for our molecular understanding of critical mediators of SHH/GLI3 signaling.
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