Zebrafish model of tuberous sclerosis complex reveals cell-autonomous and non-cell-autonomous functions of mutant tuberin.


Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is an autosomal dominant disease caused by mutations in either the TSC1 (encodes hamartin) or TSC2 (encodes tuberin) genes. Patients with TSC have hamartomas in various organs throughout the whole body, most notably in the brain, skin, eye, heart, kidney and lung. To study the development of hamartomas, we generated a zebrafish model of TSC featuring a nonsense mutation (vu242) in the tsc2 gene. This tsc2(vu242) allele encodes a truncated Tuberin protein lacking the GAP domain, which is required for inhibition of Rheb and of the TOR kinase within TORC1. We show that tsc2(vu242) is a recessive larval-lethal mutation that causes increased cell size in the brain and liver. Greatly elevated TORC1 signaling is observed in tsc2(vu242/vu242) homozygous zebrafish, and is moderately increased in tsc2(vu242/+) heterozygotes. Forebrain neurons are poorly organized in tsc2(vu242/vu242) homozygous mutants, which have extensive gray and white matter disorganization and ectopically positioned cells. Genetic mosaic analyses demonstrate that tsc2 limits TORC1 signaling in a cell-autonomous manner. However, in chimeric animals, tsc2(vu242/vu242) mutant cells also mislocalize wild-type host cells in the forebrain in a non-cell-autonomous manner. These results demonstrate a highly conserved role of tsc2 in zebrafish and establish a new animal model for studies of TSC. The finding of a non-cell-autonomous function of mutant cells might help explain the formation of brain hamartomas and cortical malformations in human TSC.