Hedgehog signalling as an antagonist of ageing and its associated diseases
Hedgehog is an important morphogenic signal that directs pattern formation during embryogenesis, but its activity also remains present through adult life. It is now becoming increasingly clear that during the reproductive phase of life and beyond it continues to direct cell renewal (which is essential to combat the chronic environmental stress to which the body is constantly exposed) and counteracts vascular, osteolytic and sometimes oncological insults to the body. Conversely, down-regulation of hedgehog signalling is associated with ageing-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, neurodegeneration, atherosclerosis and osteoporosis. Hence, in this essay we argue that hedgehog signalling is not only important at the start of life, but also constitutes an important anti-geriatric influence, and that enhanced understanding of its properties may contribute to developing rational strategies for healthy ageing and prevention of ageing-related diseases.