Hedgehog (Hh) signaling plays crucial roles in the patterning and morphogenesis of various organs within the bodies of vertebrates and insects. Endochondral ossification is one of the notable developmental events in which Hh signaling acts as a master regulator. Among three Hh proteins in mammals, Indian hedgehog (Ihh) is known to work as a major Hh input that induces biological impact of Hh signaling on the endochondral ossification. Ihh is expressed in prehypertrophic and hypertrophic chondrocytes of developing endochondral bones. Genetic studies so far have demonstrated that the Ihh-mediated activation of Hh signaling synchronizes chondrogenesis and osteogenesis during endochondral ossification by regulating the following processes: (1) chondrocyte differentiation; (2) chondrocyte proliferation; and (3) specification of bone-forming osteoblasts. Ihh not only forms a negative feedback loop with parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) to maintain the growth plate length, but also directly promotes chondrocyte propagation. Ihh input is required for the specification of progenitors into osteoblast precursors. The combinatorial approaches of genome-wide analyses and mouse genetics will facilitate understanding of the regulatory mechanisms underlying the roles of Hh signaling in endochondral ossification, providing genome-level evidence of the potential of Hh signaling for the treatment of skeletal disorders.
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