BackgroundThe cerebellum is a foliated posterior brain structure involved in coordination of motor movements and cognition. The cerebellum undergoes rapid growth postnataly due to Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling-dependent proliferation of ATOH1+ granule cell precursors (GCPs) in the external granule cell layer (EGL), a key step for generating cerebellar foliation and the correct number of granule cells. Due to its late development, the cerebellum is particularly vulnerable to injury from preterm birth and stress around birth. We recently uncovered an intrinsic capacity of the developing cerebellum to replenish ablated GCPs via adaptive reprogramming of Nestin-expressing progenitors (NEPs). However, whether this compensation mechanism occurs in mouse mutants affecting the developing cerebellum and could lead to mis-interpretation of phenotypes was not known.MethodsWe used two different approaches to remove the main SHH signaling activator GLI2 in GCPs: 1) Our mosaic mutant analysis with spatial and temporal control of recombination (MASTR) technique to delete Gli2 in a small subset of GCPs; 2) An Atoh1-Cre transgene to delete Gli2 in most of the EGL. Genetic Inducible Fate Mapping (GIFM) and live imaging were used to analyze the behavior of NEPs after Gli2 deletion.ResultsMosaic analysis demonstrated that SHH-GLI2 signaling is critical for generating the correct pool of granule cells by maintaining GCPs in an undifferentiated proliferative state and promoting their survival. Despite this, inactivation of GLI2 in a large proportion of GCPs in the embryo did not lead to the expected dramatic reduction in the size of the adult cerebellum. GIFM uncovered that NEPs do indeed replenish GCPs in Gli2 conditional mutants, and then expand and partially restore the production of granule cells. Furthermore, the SHH signaling-dependent NEP compensation requires Gli2, demonstrating that the activator side of the pathway is involved.ConclusionWe demonstrate that a mouse conditional mutation that results in loss of SHH signaling in GCPs is not sufficient to induce long term severe cerebellum hypoplasia. The ability of the neonatal cerebellum to regenerate after loss of cells via a response by NEPs must therefore be considered when interpreting the phenotypes of Atoh1-Cre conditional mutants affecting GCPs.