Sonic hedgehog regulates discrete populations of astrocytes in the adult mouse forebrain.
Astrocytes are an essential component of the CNS, and recent evidence points to an increasing diversity of their functions. Identifying molecular pathways that mediate distinct astrocyte functions, is key to understanding how the nervous system operates in the intact and pathological states. In this study, we demonstrate that the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway, well known for its roles in the developing CNS, is active in astrocytes of the mature mouse forebrain in vivo. Using multiple genetic approaches, we show that regionally distinct subsets of astrocytes receive Hh signaling, indicating a molecular diversity between specific astrocyte populations. Furthermore, we identified neurons as a source of Sonic hedgehog (Shh) in the adult forebrain, suggesting that Shh signaling is involved in neuron-astrocyte communication. Attenuation of Shh signaling in postnatal astrocytes by targeted removal of Smoothened, an obligate Shh coreceptor, resulted in upregulation of GFAP and cellular hypertrophy specifically in astrocyte populations regulated by Shh signaling. Collectively, our findings demonstrate a role for neuron-derived Shh in regulating specific populations of differentiated astrocytes.