The discovery of specific overexpression of a gatekeeper gene, ptch, in basal cell carcinoma (BCC) led to a hypothesis that the human homologue of patched (PTCH) normally functions as a negative regulator of the signaling pathway that is initiated by hedgehogs (HHs) and activated by the human homologue of smoothened (SMOH); however, no evidence for the involvement of smoh and hhs has been provided. Here, we show novel evidence that smoh is also preferentially overexpressed in BCC, together with ptch (P < 0.002), and that Sonic hh was expressed in only some BCCs. Our data, therefore, indicate that such overexpression of smoh may be associated with overexpression or mutation of PTCH and that this over-expression subsequently stimulates the PTCH/SMOH signaling pathway. In an investigation of a possible regulation of ptch and smoh, we demonstrated that expression of exogenous p21WAF1 in immortalized keratinocytes down-regulates both ptch and smoh and that the down-regulation is accompanied by growth arrest, which suggests the involvement of p21WAF1 in regulation of the PTCH/SMOH signaling pathway.

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This work was partly supported by Association pour la Recherche contre le Cancer, European Union Grants ENV4-CT96-0172 and ENV4-CT96-0194, and by the Ministère de la Recherche et de la Technologie, the Swedish Cancer Fund, and the Swedish Children Cancer Fund.

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