Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) and focal cortical dysplasia type II (FCDII) are caused by mutations in mTOR pathway genes leading to mTOR hyperactivity, focal malformations of cortical development (fMCD), and seizures in 80-90% of the patients. The current definitive treatments for epilepsy are surgical resection or treatment with everolimus, which inhibits mTOR activity (only approved for TSC). Because both options have severe limitations, there is a major need to better understand the mechanisms leading to seizures to improve life-long epilepsy treatment in TSC and FCDII. To investigate such mechanisms, we recently developed a murine model of fMCD-associated epilepsy that recapitulates the human TSC and FCDII disorders. fMCD are defined by the presence of misplaced, dysmorphic cortical neurons expressing hyperactive mTOR ? for simplicity we will refer to these as ?mutant? neurons. In our model and in human TSC tissue, we made a surprising finding that mutant neurons express HCN4 channels, which are not normally functionally expressed in cortical neurons. These data led us to ask several important questions based on the known biology of HCN4 channels: (1) As HCN4 channels are responsible for the pacemaking activity of the heart, can HCN4 channel expression lead to repetitive firing of mutant neurons resulting in seizures? (2) HCN4 is the most cAMP-sensitive of the four HCN isoforms. Do coincident increases in cAMP (e.g., ?-adrenergic receptors) and hyperpolarization or depolarizations drive HCN4 channel opening and neuronal firing? (3) HCN4 channel mRNA is expressed in cortical neurons. Is the abnormal HCN4 expression in mutant neurons due to increased translation via mTOR? (4) Seizures can start at any age in patients that have been seizure-free for decades, but we do not know why. Can this be explained by worsening of mTOR hyperactivity with age leading to a progressive increase in HCN4 expression until there is enough HCN4 channels to depolarize cells and reach firing threshold upon activation? (5) There is no selective blocker of the HCN4 channel and blocking other HCN channels would have serious central and peripheral side-effects. Identifying the mechanisms responsible for functional HCN4 expression may therefore provide alternative therapeutic targets. Do binding partners and/or post-translational modifications contribute to HCN4 abnormal expression in mutant neurons? We will address these questions in three aims testing our central hypothesis that abnormal mTOR- and translation- dependent expression of HCN4 channels leads to repetitive neuronal firing and seizures in TSC and FCDII.
Aim 1 : Test the hypothesis that abnormal HCN4 channel expression in murine TSC/FCDII mutant neurons contribute to neuron excitability and seizure activity.
Aim2 : Test the hypothesis that abnormal HCN4 expression is mTOR- and translation-dependent and increases with age and seizures.
Aim 3 : Test the hypothesis that HCN4 binding partners and posttranslational modifications are necessary for its functional expression and function. The proposed studies will be performed through a collaborative effort between the Bordey and Calderwood labs that together combine unique and extensive expertise in in vivo neurobiology, and biochemical and protein science.
This proposal aims at examining specific mechanisms of seizure generation in two genetic disorders, tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) and focal cortical dysplasia (FCD) in hope to provide novel therapeutic targets. Epilepsy in TSC and FCD patients is refractory to conventional treatment and requires an invasive surgical intervention that is not 100% successful underscoring the need for understanding how seizures are generated and developing novel treatments. In addition, our findings will emphasize the need for personalized medicine for this patient population based on their genetic variants.