Hedgehog (Hh) plays a pivotal role in various tissues during embryonic development, tissue homeostasis and tumorigenesis. In mammals, Hh exists in three homologs: Desert hedgehog (Dhh), Indian hedgehog (Ihh) and Sonic hedgehog (Shh). In this study, we cloned full-length cDNAs encoding Dhh and Ihh from the rat uterus. Their amino acid sequences have a high homology with those of the mouse and human. In addition, the changes of Hh gene expression in the rat uterus during early pregnancy were analyzed. The results showed that all three hedgehog mRNAs were detected in the rat uterus at the proestrus stage and during early pregnancy (1.5, 3.5, 5.5 and 7.5 days post coitus: dpc). Ihh mRNA expression varied and peaked at 3.5 dpc in the luminal and glandular epithelium. Expression was decreased on 5.5 dpc with the exception of sustained expression in the glandular epithelium. Despite such Ihh variability, the expressions of Dhh and Shh mRNA remained unchanged. This indicated that Ihh was mainly expressed in the rat uterus during early pregnancy. Moreover, the Hh target gene (glioma-associated oncogene homolog 1; Gli1) was also highly expressed at 3.5 dpc in the epithelium and periepithelial stroma in a manner similar to the temporal pattern of Ihh expression. This suggests that Ihh signaling axis play a role in the rat uterus during early pregnancy. In summary, our results elucidate that Ihh is a predominant Hh protein in the rat uterus during early pregnancy and that other Hhs have the potential to be expressed. This observation will help to elucidate the basic molecular mechanism of rat uterus during early pregnancy.
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