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This study addresses the role of sonic hedgehog (shh) in increasing oral-pharyngeal constructive traits (jaws and taste buds) at the expense of eyes in the blind cavefish Astyanax mexicanus. In cavefish embryos, eye primordia degenerate under the influence of hyperactive Shh signaling. In concert, cavefish show amplified jaw size and taste bud numbers as part of a change in feeding behavior. To determine whether pleiotropic effects of hyperactive Shh signaling link these regressive and constructive traits, shh expression was compared during late development of the surface-dwelling (surface fish) and cave-dwelling (cavefish) forms of Astyanax. After an initial expansion along the midline of early embryos, shh was elevated in the oral-pharyngeal region in cavefish and later was confined to taste buds. The results of shh inhibition and overexpression experiments indicate that Shh signaling has an important role in oral and taste bud development. Conditional overexpression of an injected shh transgene at specific times in development showed that taste bud amplification and eye degeneration are sensitive to shh overexpression during the same early developmental period, although taste buds are not formed until much later. Genetic crosses between cavefish and surface fish revealed an inverse relationship between eye size and jaw size/taste bud number, supporting a link between oral-pharyngeal constructive traits and eye degeneration. The results suggest that hyperactive Shh signaling increases oral and taste bud amplification in cavefish at the expense of eyes. Therefore, selection for constructive oral-pharyngeal traits may be responsible for eye loss during cavefish evolution via pleiotropic function of the Shh signaling pathway. © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.