Heterozygous inactivation of tsc2 enhances tumorigenesis in p53 mutant zebrafish.


Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a multi-organ disorder caused by mutations of the TSC1 or TSC2 genes. A key function of these genes is to inhibit mTORC1 (mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1) kinase signaling. Cells deficient for TSC1 or TSC2 have increased mTORC1 signaling and give rise to benign tumors, although, as a rule, true malignancies are rarely seen. In contrast, other disorders with increased mTOR signaling typically have overt malignancies. A better understanding of genetic mechanisms that govern the transformation of benign cells to malignant ones is crucial to understand cancer pathogenesis. We generated a zebrafish model of TSC and cancer progression by placing a heterozygous mutation of the tsc2 gene in a p53 mutant background. Unlike tsc2 heterozygous mutant zebrafish, which never exhibited cancers, compound tsc2;p53 mutants had malignant tumors in multiple organs. Tumorigenesis was enhanced compared with p53 mutant zebrafish. p53 mutants also had increased mTORC1 signaling that was further enhanced in tsc2;p53 compound mutants. We found increased expression of Hif1-α, Hif2-α and Vegf-c in tsc2;p53 compound mutant zebrafish compared with p53 mutant zebrafish. Expression of these proteins probably underlies the increased angiogenesis seen in compound mutant zebrafish compared with p53 mutants and might further drive cancer progression. Treatment of p53 and compound mutant zebrafish with the mTORC1 inhibitor rapamycin caused rapid shrinkage of tumor size and decreased caliber of tumor-associated blood vessels. This is the first report using an animal model to show interactions between tsc2, mTORC1 and p53 during tumorigenesis. These results might explain why individuals with TSC rarely have malignant tumors, but also suggest that cancer arising in individuals without TSC might be influenced by the status of TSC1 and/or TSC2 mutations and be potentially treatable with mTORC1 inhibitors.