Hirschsprung (HSCR) disease is a complex genetic disorder attributed to a failure of the enteric neural crest cells (ENCCs) to form ganglia in the hindgut. Hedgehog and Notch are implicated in mediating proliferation and differentiation of ENCCs. Nevertheless, how these signaling molecules may interact to mediate gut colonization by ENCCs and contribute to a primary etiology for HSCR are not known. Here, we report our pathway-based epistasis analysis of data generated by a genome-wide association study on HSCR disease, which indicates that specific genotype constellations of Patched (PTCH1) (which encodes a receptor for Hedgehog) and delta-like 3 (DLL3) (which encodes a receptor for Notch) SNPs confer higher risk to HSCR. Importantly, deletion of Ptch1 in mouse ENCCs induced robust Dll1 expression and activation of the Notch pathway, leading to premature gliogenesis and reduction of ENCC progenitors in mutant bowels. Dll1 integrated Hedgehog and Notch pathways to coordinate neuronal and glial cell differentiation during enteric nervous system development. In addition, Hedgehog-mediated gliogenesis was found to be highly conserved, such that Hedgehog was consistently able to promote gliogenesis of human neural crest–related precursors. Collectively, we defined PTCH1 and DLL3 as HSCR susceptibility genes and suggest that Hedgehog/Notch-induced premature gliogenesis may represent a new disease mechanism for HSCR.
Elly Sau-Wai Ngan, Maria-Mercè Garcia-Barceló, Benjamin Hon-Kei Yip, Hiu-Ching Poon, Sin-Ting Lau, Carmen Ka-Man Kwok, Eric Sat, Mai-Har Sham, Kenneth Kak-Yuen Wong, Brandon J. Wainwright, Stacey S. Cherny, Chi-Chung Hui, Pak Chung Sham, Vincent Chi-Hang Lui, Paul Kwong-Hang Tam