Functional assessment of two variants of unknown significance in TEK by endothelium-specific expression in zebrafish embryos

Hum Mol Genet. 2021 Dec 17;31(1):10-17. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddab196.


Vascular malformations are most often caused by somatic mutations of the PI3K/mTOR and the RAS signaling pathways, which can be identified in the affected tissue. Venous malformations (VMs) commonly harbor PIK3CA and TEK mutations, whereas arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are usually caused by BRAF, RAS or MAP2K1 mutations. Correct identification of the underlying mutation is of increasing importance, since targeted treatments are becoming more and more relevant, especially in patients with extensive vascular malformations. However, variants of unknown significance (VUSs) are often identified and their pathogenicity and response to targeted therapy cannot be precisely predicted. Here, we show that zebrafish embryos can be used to rapidly assess the pathogenicity of novel VUSs in TEK, encoding for the receptor TIE2, present on endothelial cells of VMs. Endothelium-specific overexpression of TEK mutations leads to robust induction of VMs, whereas MAP2K1 mutations cause AVMs in our zebrafish model. TEK mutations are often found as double mutations in cis; using our model, we show that double mutations have an additive effect in inducing VMs compared with the respective single variants. The clinically established mTOR-inhibitor sirolimus (rapamycin) efficiently abrogates the development of VMs in this zebrafish model. In summary, endothelium-specific overexpression of patient-derived TEK variants in the zebrafish model allows assessment of their pathogenic significance as well as testing of candidate drugs in a personalized and mutation-specific approach.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Endothelium / metabolism
  • Endothelium / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Receptor, TIE-2* / genetics
  • Vascular Malformations* / genetics
  • Zebrafish* / genetics
  • Zebrafish* / metabolism


  • Receptor, TIE-2