Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is caused by a failure to form the midline of the forebrain and/or midface. It is one of the most common human birth defects, but clinical expression is extremely variable. HPE is associated with mutations in the sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathway. Mice lacking the Shh pathway regulator Cdo (also called Cdon) display HPE with strain-dependent penetrance and expressivity, implicating silent modifier genes as one cause of the variability. However, the identities of potential HPE modifiers of this type are unknown. We report here that whereas mice lacking the Cdo paralog Boc do not have HPE, Cdo;Boc double mutants on a largely Cdo-resistant genetic background have lobar HPE with strong craniofacial anomalies and defects in Shh target gene expression in the developing forebrain. Boc is therefore a silent HPE modifier gene in mice. Furthermore, Cdo and Boc have specific, selective roles in Shh signaling in mammals, because Cdo;Boc double-mutant mice do not display the most severe HPE phenotype seen in Shh-null mice, nor do they have major defects in digit patterning or development of vertebrae, which are also Shh-dependent processes. This is in contrast to reported observations in Drosophila, where genetic removal of the Cdo and Boc orthologs Ihog and Boi results in a complete loss of response to the hedgehog ligand. Therefore, there is evolutionary divergence between mammals and insects in the requirement of the hedgehog pathway for Cdo/Ihog family members, with mammalian development involving additional factors and/or distinct mechanisms at this level of pathway regulation.
↵* Present address: Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, New York University, New York, NY 10016, USA
- Received March 26, 2010.
- Accepted November 1, 2010.
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