Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Human and Molecular Genetics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Michael J. Gambello, M.D., PhD.

Committee Member

Pramod Dash, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Raymond J. Grill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gilbert J. Cote, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl L. Walker, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dos D. Sarbassov, Ph.D.


Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a dominant tumor suppressor disorder caused by mutations in either TSC1 or TSC2. The proteins of these genes form a complex to inhibit the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), which controls protein translation and cell growth. TSC causes substantial neuropathology, often leading to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in up to 60% of patients. The anatomic and neurophysiologic links between these two disorders are not well understood. However, both disorders share cerebellar abnormalities. Therefore, we have characterized a novel mouse model in which the Tsc2 gene was selectively deleted from cerebellar Purkinje cells (Tsc2f/-;Cre). These mice exhibit progressive Purkinje cell degeneration.

Since loss of Purkinje cells is a well-reported postmortem finding in patients with ASD, we conducted a series of behavior tests to assess if Tsc2f/-;Cre mice displayed autistic-like deficits. Using the three chambered social choice assay, we found that Tsc2f/-;Cre mice showed behavioral deficits, exhibiting no preference between a stranger mouse and an inanimate object, or between a novel and a familiar mouse. Tsc2f/-;Cre mice also demonstrated increased repetitive behavior as assessed with marble burying activity. Altogether, these results demonstrate that loss of Tsc2 in Purkinje cells in a haploinsufficient background lead to behavioral deficits that are characteristic of human autism. Therefore, Purkinje cells loss and/or dysfunction may be an important link between TSC and ASD.

Additionally, we have examined some of the cellular mechanisms resulting from mutations in Tsc2 leading to Purkinje cell death. Loss of Tsc2 led to upregulation of mTORC1 and increased cell size. As a consequence of increased protein synthesis, several cellular stress pathways were upregulated. Principally, these included altered calcium signaling, oxidative stress, and ER stress. Likely as a consequence of ER stress, there was also upregulation of ubiquitin and autophagy.

Excitingly, treatment with an mTORC1 inhibitor, rapamycin attenuated mTORC1 activity and prevented Purkinje cell death by reducing of calcium signaling, the ER stress response, and ubiquitin. Remarkably, rapamycin treatment also reversed the social behavior deficits, thus providing a promising potential therapy for TSC-associated ASD.


Purkinje cell, Tuberous sclerosis, rapamycin, mouse, Tsc2, autism, social, cell death, ER stress, oxidative stress



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