Phosphoproteomics of short-term hedgehog signaling in human medulloblastoma cells

Background: Aberrant hedgehog (HH) signaling is implicated in the development of various cancer entities such as medulloblastoma. Activation of GLI transcription factors was revealed as the driving force upon pathway activation. Increased phosphorylation of essential effectors such as Smoothened (SMO) and GLI proteins by kinases including Protein Kinase A, Casein Kinase 1, and Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 β controls effector activity, stability and processing. However, a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of phosphorylation in the signal transduction remains unclear, particularly during early response processes involved in SMO activation and preceding GLI target gene regulation.

Methods: We applied temporal quantitative phosphoproteomics to reveal phosphorylation dynamics underlying the short-term chemical activation and inhibition of early hedgehog signaling in HH responsive human medulloblastoma cells. Medulloblastoma cells were treated for 5.0 and 15 min with Smoothened Agonist (SAG) to induce and with vismodegib to inhibit the HH pathway.

Results: Our phosphoproteomic profiling resulted in the quantification of 7700 and 10,000 phosphosites after 5.0 and 15 min treatment, respectively. The data suggest a central role of phosphorylation in the regulation of ciliary assembly, trafficking, and signal transduction already after 5.0 min treatment. ERK/MAPK signaling, besides Protein Kinase A signaling and mTOR signaling, were differentially regulated after short-term treatment. Activation of Polo-like Kinase 1 and inhibition of Casein Kinase 2A1 were characteristic for vismodegib treatment, while SAG treatment induced Aurora Kinase A activity. Distinctive phosphorylation of central players of HH signaling such as SMO, SUFU, GLI2 and GLI3 was observed only after 15 min treatment.

Conclusions: This study provides evidence that phosphorylation triggered in response to SMO modulation dictates the localization of hedgehog pathway components within the primary cilium and affects the regulation of the SMO-SUFU-GLI axis. The data are relevant for the development of targeted therapies of HH-associated cancers including sonic HH-type medulloblastoma. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms of action of SMO inhibitors such as vismodegib may lead to the development of compounds causing fewer adverse effects and lower frequencies of drug resistance. Video Abstract.

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