The signaling protein Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) is crucial for the development and function of many vertebrate tissues. It remains largely unclear, however, what defines the range and specificity of pathway activation. The adrenal gland represents a useful model to address this question, where the SHH pathway is activated in a very specific subset of cells lying near the SHH-producing cells, even though there is an abundance of lipoproteins that would allow SHH to travel and signal long-range. We determine that, whereas adrenal cells can secrete SHH on lipoproteins, this form of SHH is inactive due to the presence of cosecreted inhibitors, potentially explaining the absence of long-range signaling. Instead, we find that SHH-producing cells signal at short range via membrane-bound SHH, only to receiving cells with primary cilia. Finally, our data from NCI-H295R adrenocortical carcinoma cells suggest that adrenocortical tumors may evade these regulatory control mechanisms by acquiring the ability to activate SHH target genes in response to TGF-β.

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