TSC patient-derived isogenic neural progenitor cells reveal altered early neurodevelopmental phenotypes and rapamycin-induced MNK-eIF4E signaling

Mol Autism. 2020 Jan 6;11(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s13229-019-0311-3. eCollection 2020.


Background: Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with frequent occurrence of epilepsy, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disability (ID), and tumors in multiple organs. The aberrant activation of mTORC1 in TSC has led to treatment with mTORC1 inhibitor rapamycin as a lifelong therapy for tumors, but TSC-associated neurocognitive manifestations remain unaffected by rapamycin.

Methods: Here, we generated patient-specific, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from a TSC patient with a heterozygous, germline, nonsense mutation in exon 15 of TSC1 and established an isogenic set of heterozygous (Het), null and corrected wildtype (Corr-WT) iPSCs using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing. We differentiated these iPSCs into neural progenitor cells (NPCs) and examined neurodevelopmental phenotypes, signaling and changes in gene expression by RNA-seq.

Results: Differentiated NPCs revealed enlarged cell size in TSC1-Het and Null NPCs, consistent with mTORC1 activation. TSC1-Het and Null NPCs also revealed enhanced proliferation and altered neurite outgrowth in a genotype-dependent manner, which was not reversed by rapamycin. Transcriptome analyses of TSC1-NPCs revealed differentially expressed genes that display a genotype-dependent linear response, i.e., genes upregulated/downregulated in Het were further increased/decreased in Null. In particular, genes linked to ASD, epilepsy, and ID were significantly upregulated or downregulated warranting further investigation. In TSC1-Het and Null NPCs, we also observed basal activation of ERK1/2, which was further activated upon rapamycin treatment. Rapamycin also increased MNK1/2-eIF4E signaling in TSC1-deficient NPCs.

Conclusion: MEK-ERK and MNK-eIF4E pathways regulate protein translation, and our results suggest that aberrant translation distinct in TSC1/2-deficient NPCs could play a role in neurodevelopmental defects. Our data showing upregulation of these signaling pathways by rapamycin support a strategy to combine a MEK or a MNK inhibitor with rapamycin that may be superior for TSC-associated CNS defects. Importantly, our generation of isogenic sets of NPCs from TSC patients provides a valuable platform for translatome and large-scale drug screening studies. Overall, our studies further support the notion that early developmental events such as NPC proliferation and initial process formation, such as neurite number and length that occur prior to neuronal differentiation, represent primary events in neurogenesis critical to disease pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD.

Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; Disease modeling; Early neurodevelopment; Induced pluripotent stem cells; MEK-ERK1/2; MNK1/2-eIF4E; Neural progenitor cells; TSC1; Tuberous sclerosis complex; mTORC1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • Codon, Nonsense
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-4E / metabolism*
  • Gene Editing
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neurogenesis
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • RNA-Seq
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sirolimus
  • Tuberous Sclerosis Complex 1 Protein / genetics
  • Tuberous Sclerosis*


  • Codon, Nonsense
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-4E
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • TSC1 protein, human
  • Tuberous Sclerosis Complex 1 Protein
  • MKNK1 protein, human
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Sirolimus