Tuberous Sclerosis

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Summary: tuberous sclerosis is a systemic disease with the brain as the most frequently affected organ. Clinically it is characterized by seizures, mental retardation and adenoma sebaceum. Pathologically, there is cortical tuber, subependymal nodules, and heterotopia in white matter of the brain. Subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA) is almost always associated with tuberous sclerosis. Review article- [Webb and Osborne, 1995]

Pathogenesis: the bizarre cells in the subependymal nodules may be pleuripotential and may represent a disruption of both migration and differentiation.

Clinical features:

Organs involved:

Brain: The brain is the most frequently affected organ. Pathologic changes include cortical tuber, subependymal nodule, subependymal giant cell astrocytoma, heterotopia in white matter. These changes can be seen in fetus as early as 28 weeks of gestation. The spinal cord and peripheral nerve are rarely affected.

Skin (most common clinical manifestation):

Eye: retinal giant cell astrocytoma (occurs in 50% of patients), sometimes bilatera, and may present in children as leukoria. Other ocular features include hypopigmented iris spot, white eyelashes and hamartomata of eyelids and conjunctivae.

Kidney: angiolipoma (occurs in 40-80% of patients).

Heart and vessels: single or multiple cardiac rhabdomyomata (occurs in 25-50% of patients). Most of them are asymptomatic. Moyamoya phenomenon can be seen in tuberous sclerosis.

Bone: Skull may have multiple dipole bone islands. Cystic bone changes can also be seen.

Other organs: lung (lymphangiomyomatosis, may be a limited form), liver, adrenals, gonads, thyroid, teeth, and gums.

Prevalence: 1:6,000-10,000 in adult population [Hunt and Lindenbaum, 1984].

Genetics: autosomal dominant with very high penetrance. Occurrence of affected siblings with apparently unaffected parents is extremely rare [Michel et al., 1983]. TSC1 gene on chromosome 9q34 (gene product is hamartin) and TSC2 gene (gene product is tuberin) on chromosome 16p13.3 are involved. Sporadic cases were first thought of resulted from mutation but CT scans of asymptomatic family members revealed a significant numbers with abnormalities.

Neoplastic transformation: subependymal hamartomas may transform into subependymal giant cell tumor (SEGT). Cortical tubers do not transform into neoplasm.


Cortical tubers greatly expand the gyri and blur the margin between gray and white matter. They may also be present in the depth of the sulci. Tubers are firmer on palpation. It may be easier to pick up tubers by palpation than by visual examination. Tubers are occasionally seen in the cerebellum. Calcification is common and can turn the tuber into a stony hard structure. The number of tubers varies and they can be scattered throughout the brain.

Subependymal hamartomas may occur in the 3rd and 4th ventricle and even the aqueduct but the most frequent site is the lateral ventruicles, particularly near the sulcus treminalis with their deep parts embedded in the caudate nucleus or thalamus. Obstruction of the foramen of Monro leading to hydrocephalus is common.


Cortical tubers:

Subependymal hamartomas:

Electron microscopy: dense bodies composed of homogenous electron dense content or fingerprint profiles bound by a membrane can be seen. Also, cytoplasmic crystalline inclusions akin to those seen in alveolar soft part sarcoma can also be noted. These inclusions measure as much as 8 micron in length and had 7-nm peridocities, often with intersecting lamellae. [Ultra. Pathol. 1993 17:503].


SEGT from subependymal nodule: the histological distinction between these two entities are far from clear. Interestingly, the giant cells in both the hamartomas and SEGA are HMB-45 (-).  Hamartomas (such as lymphagiomyomatosis in lung) in other part of the body (in one case report) are HMB-45 (+). MIB-1 staining index in SEGA ranges from 0.1 to 3.8, mean=1.1 [Mod Pathol 1997 10:952] [Mod Pathol 1997 10:313] According to Lucy Rorke, these tumors are not astrocytomas and may have neuronal differentiation and should, therefore, be called subependymal giant cell tumor. According to one series, subependymoma giant cell tumor is the most frequently seen tumor of the lateral ventricles of children [Zuccaro G et al., 1999].


Arai Y, Ackerley CA, Becker LE. Loss of the TSC2 product tuberin in subependymal giant-cell tumors. Acta Neuropathol 1999 98:233-9.

Crino PB, Trojanowski JQ, Dichter MA, Eberwine J. Embryonic neuronal markers in tuberous sclerosis: single-cell molecular pathology. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1996 93:14152-7

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Background    Gross Pathology    Histopathology & Immunohistochemistry   Differential Diagnosis    Reference