Hedgehog (Hh) molecules play critical roles during development as a morphogen, and therefore their distribution must be regulated. Hh proteins undergo several modifications that tether them to the membrane. We have previously identified tout velu (ttv), a homolog of the mammalian EXT tumor suppressor gene family, as a gene required for movement of Hh. In this paper, we present in vivo evidence that ttv is involved in heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) biosynthesis, suggesting that HSPGs control Hh distribution. In contrast to mutants in other HSPG biosynthesis genes, the activity of the HSPG-dependent FGF and Wingless signaling pathways are not affected in ttv mutants. This demonstrates an unexpected level of specificity in the regulation of the distribution of extracellular signals by HSPGs.
Hedgehog (Hh) proteins act through both short-range and long-range signalling to pattern tissues during invertebrate and vertebrate development. The mechanisms allowing Hedgehog to diffuse over a long distance and to exert its long-range effects are not understood. Here we identify a new Drosophila gene, named tout-velu, that is required for diffusion of Hedgehog. Characterization of tout-velu shows that it encodes an integral membrane protein that belongs to the EXT gene family. Members of this family are involved in the human multiple exostoses syndrome, which affects bone morphogenesis. Our results, together with the previous characterization of the role of Indian Hedgehog in bone morphogenesis, lead us to propose that the multiple exostoses syndrome is associated with abnormal diffusion of Hedgehog proteins. These results show the existence of a new conserved mechanism required for diffusion of Hedgehog.