During Drosophila development, cells belonging to the posterior compartment of each segment organize growth and patterning by secreting Hedgehog (Hh), a protein which induces a thin strip of adjacent cells in the anterior compartment to express the morphogens Decapentaplegic (Dpp) and Wingless (Wg). Hedgehog is bound and transduced by a receptor complex that includes Smoothened (Smo), a member of the Frizzled (Fz) family of seven-pass transmembrane receptors, as well as the multiple-pass transmembrane protein Patched (Ptc). Ptc is required for the binding of Hh to the complex as well as for the Hh-dependent activation of Smo within the complex. Here, we identify a likely null allele of the smo gene and use it to determine whether Hh is bound by Ptc alone, or by Smo in concert with Ptc. We find that cells devoid of Smo can sequester Hh, but that their ability to do so depends, as in wild-type cells, on the expression of high levels of Ptc protein. These results suggest that Ptc normally binds Hh without any help from Smo and hence favor a mechanism of signal transduction in which Hh binds specifically to Ptc and induces a conformational change leading to the release of latent Smo activity.

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