Is sonic hedgehog a gene or a protein or both?

I think sonic hedgehog is okay as a name for a chemical.

Having said that, I am a little bit concerned about the way sonic hedgehog seems to mean the protein and the gene that codes for it, which is likely to cause confusion.

"Sonic hedgehog is a protein encoded for by the SHH gene." says en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… which later says: "Two of these genes—i.e., desert hedgehog and Indian hedgehog—were named for species of hedgehogs, while sonic hedgehog was named after Sonic the Hedgehog, the protagonist character of the eponymous video game franchise. The gene was named as such by Robert Riddle, who was a postdoctoral fellow at the Tabin Lab, after his wife Betsy Wilder came home with a gaming magazine containing an advert for the Sonic the Hedgehog video game"

The New York Times: "A Gene Named Sonic". The New York Times. 1994-01-11.

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    $\begingroup$ SHH gene stands for Sonic Hedgehog Signaling Molecule. This gene "codes" for the protein Sonic hedgehog protein. Normally genes and the proteins they code for have similar names. It can be confusing if you only use the abbreviation. genecards.org/cgi-bin/…. BTW: I am unsure why people downvote your question. It's totally valid. Don't get demotivated because some people think they are too smart. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2021 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


Your confusion is warranted! The formatting rules for gene and protein nomenclature differ between model organisms. Even within a species, naming conventions may be inconsistently applied across the literature.

In Homo sapiens, the sonic hedgehog gene SHH (note italicization) encodes the sonic hedgehog protein SHH (or Shh protein, as on Uniprot). Human gene nomenclature is standardized by the HGNC.

As in humans, Drosophila gene and protein names are distinguished by different italicization; per FlyBase:

Protein product names and symbols should not be italicized in printed text. Where feasible, proteins that are named for the gene should be further distinguished by capitalizing the initial letter of the gene symbol or name. For example, the protein product(s) of the hh (hedgehog) gene could be correctly denoted as Hh or Hedgehog; the protein product(s) of the RpL38 (Ribosomal protein L38) gene could be correctly denoted as RpL38 or Ribosomal protein L38; and the the protein product(s) of the AGO1 (Argonaute-1) gene could be correctly denoted as AGO1 or Argonaute-1.

I’m partial to the naming conventions in Saccharomyces, where gene encodes PROTEIN (e.g. mpk1 and MPK1).

For both eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms, the ASM Molecular and Cellular Biology submission guide for authors is a good resource for genetic nomenclature conventions.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for saying my confusion is warranted. But your answer doesn't mention 'sonic hedgehog'. $\endgroup$ May 3, 2021 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ I've updated my answer to clarify that the human sonic hedgehog gene symbol is SHH, and the human sonic hedgehog protein symbol is SHH. Indeed, both the gene and the protein are named "sonic hedgehog". $\endgroup$
    – acvill
    May 3, 2021 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ So a hedgehog is a gene and a Hedgehog is a protein? $\endgroup$ May 3, 2021 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ The first line on Wikipedia states "Sonic hedgehog is a protein encoded for by the SHH gene." Which part of it do you have trouble with? I'm genuinely curious. $\endgroup$
    – S Pr
    May 3, 2021 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @SPr The trouble is that this is only one opinion, that is contradicted by the NYT. Also, why is it 'hedgehog' and not 'Hedgehog' as stated by FlyBase? $\endgroup$ May 7, 2021 at 21:19

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