Neurofibromatosis type I (NF1; also known as von Recklinghausen’s disease) is a common autosomal-dominant condition primarily affecting neural crest–derived tissues. The disease gene, NF1, encodes neurofibromin, a protein of over 2,800 amino acids that contains a 216–amino acid domain with Ras–GTPase-activating protein (Ras-GAP) activity. Potential therapies for NF1 currently in development and being tested in clinical trials are designed to modify NF1 Ras-GAP activity or target downstream effectors of Ras signaling. Mice lacking the murine homolog (Nf1) have mid-gestation lethal cardiovascular defects due to a requirement for neurofibromin in embryonic endothelium. We sought to determine whether the GAP activity of neurofibromin is sufficient to rescue complete loss of function or whether other as yet unidentified functions of neurofibromin might also exist. Using cre-inducible ubiquitous and tissue-specific expression, we demonstrate that the isolated GAP-related domain (GRD) rescued cardiovascular development in Nf1–/– embryos, but overgrowth of neural crest–derived tissues persisted, leading to perinatal lethality. These results suggest that neurofibromin may possess activities outside of the GRD that modulate neural crest homeostasis and that therapeutic approaches solely aimed at targeting Ras activity may not be sufficient to treat tumors of neural crest origin in NF1.
Fraz A. Ismat, Junwang Xu, Min Min Lu, Jonathan A. Epstein