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Tuberous sclerosis complex
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Reviewed December 2013
What is tuberous sclerosis complex?
Tuberous sclerosis complex is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous noncancerous (benign) tumors in many parts of the body. These tumors can occur in the skin, brain, kidneys, and other organs, in some cases leading to significant health problems. Tuberous sclerosis complex also causes developmental problems, and the signs and symptoms of the condition vary from person to person.
Virtually all affected people have skin abnormalities, including patches of unusually light-colored skin, areas of raised and thickened skin, and growths under the nails. Tumors on the face called facial angiofibromas are also common beginning in childhood.
Tuberous sclerosis complex often affects the brain, causing seizures, behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and aggression, and intellectual disability or learning problems. Some affected children have the characteristic features of autism, a developmental disorder that affects communication and social interaction. Benign brain tumors can also develop in people with tuberous sclerosis complex; these tumors can cause serious or life-threatening complications.
Kidney tumors are common in people with tuberous sclerosis complex; these growths can cause severe problems with kidney function and may be life-threatening in some cases. Additionally, tumors can develop in the heart, lungs, and the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (the retina).
How common is tuberous sclerosis complex?
Tuberous sclerosis complex affects about 1 in 6,000 people.
What genes are related to tuberous sclerosis complex?
Mutations in the TSC1 or TSC2 gene can cause tuberous sclerosis complex. The TSC1 and TSC2 genes provide instructions for making the proteins hamartin and tuberin, respectively. Within cells, these two proteins likely work together to help regulate cell growth and size. The proteins act as tumor suppressors, which normally prevent cells from growing and dividing too fast or in an uncontrolled way.
People with tuberous sclerosis complex are born with one mutated copy of the TSC1 or TSC2 gene in each cell. This mutation prevents the cell from making functional hamartin or tuberin from the altered copy of the gene. However, enough protein is usually produced from the other, normal copy of the gene to regulate cell growth effectively. For some types of tumors to develop, a second mutation involving the other copy of the TSC1 or TSC2 gene must occur in certain cells during a person's lifetime.
When both copies of the TSC1 gene are mutated in a particular cell, that cell cannot produce any functional hamartin; cells with two altered copies of the TSC2 gene are unable to produce any functional tuberin. The loss of these proteins allows the cell to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way to form a tumor. In people with tuberous sclerosis complex, a second TSC1 or TSC2 mutation typically occurs in multiple cells over an affected person's lifetime. The loss of hamartin or tuberin in different types of cells leads to the growth of tumors in many different organs and tissues.
How do people inherit tuberous sclerosis complex?
Tuberous sclerosis complex has an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to increase the risk of developing tumors and other problems with development. In about one-third of cases, an affected person inherits an altered TSC1 or TSC2 gene from a parent who has the disorder. The remaining two-thirds of people with tuberous sclerosis complex are born with new mutations in the TSC1 or TSC2 gene. These cases, which are described as sporadic, occur in people with no history of tuberous sclerosis complex in their family. TSC1 mutations appear to be more common in familial cases of tuberous sclerosis complex, while mutations in the TSC2 gene occur more frequently in sporadic cases.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of tuberous sclerosis complex?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of tuberous sclerosis complex and may include treatment providers.
General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.
To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about tuberous sclerosis complex?
You may find the following resources about tuberous sclerosis complex helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for tuberous sclerosis complex?
What if I still have specific questions about tuberous sclerosis complex?
Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding tuberous sclerosis complex?
autism ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; benign ; carcinoma ; cardiac ; cell ; disability ; familial ; gene ; heterozygosity ; hyperactivity ; inheritance ; kidney ; loss of heterozygosity ; mutation ; pattern of inheritance ; protein ; renal ; retina ; rhabdomyosarcoma ; sclerosis ; sporadic ; tissue ; tumor
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (10 links)
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.