Embryonic pathways are often re-expressed in adult pathology. Here we investigated the role of the morphogen hedgehog (hh), which we found to be re-expressed in atherosclerotic plaques. Male ApoE-/- mice were treated for 12 weeks with an anti-hh antibody (5E1) or a control IgG (1E6) starting at the age of 6 or 18 weeks. Inhibition of hh signalling induced a significant increase in total plaque area in the aortic arch, a result of an increase (54% and 36%, respectively) in the area of advanced plaques (atheromata). In mice treated with anti-hh, plaques contained large (18-35% > ctrl), lipid-filled, sometimes multinucleated macrophage foam cells. Plasma cholesterol levels decreased after anti-hh treatment. In bone marrow-derived macrophages, foam cell formation was enhanced after inhibition of hh signalling. Anti-hh treatment caused a 54-75% increase in early oxLDL uptake (10-240 min), which was scavenger receptor-mediated. After 3-24 h of oxLDL incubation, intense Oil red O staining as well as increased amounts of cholesterol esters were present in these macrophages after anti-hh treatment. Activation of the HH-signalling cascade by recombinant Shh induced a decrease in oxLDL uptake. Here we show that the hh-signalling pathway is one of the morphogenic pathways that regulate plasma lipid levels and atherosclerosis development and progression.