Humans have two nearly identical copies of the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) gene: SMN1 and SMN2. The two SMN genes code for identical proteins; however, SMN2 predominantly generates a shorter transcript due to skipping of exon 7, the last coding exon. Skipping of SMN2 exon 7 leads to production of a truncated SMN protein that is highly unstable. The inability of SMN2 to compensate for the loss of SMN1 results in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the second most prevalent genetic cause of infant mortality. Since SMN2 is almost universally present in SMA patients, correction of SMN2 exon 7 splicing holds the promise for cure. Consistently, SMN2 exon 7 splicing has emerged as one of the best studied splicing systems in humans. The vast amount of recent literature provides a clue that SMN2 exon 7 splicing is regulated by an intron definition mechanism, which does not require cross-exon communication as prerequisite for exon inclusion. Our conclusion is based on the prominent role of intronic cis-elements, some of them have emerged as the frontrunners among potential therapeutic targets of SMA. Further, the widely expressed T-cell-restricted intracellular antigen-1 (TIA1), a member of the glutamine rich domain containing RNA-binding proteins, has recently been found to regulate SMN exon 7 splicing by binding to intron 7 sequences away from the 5′ splice site (ss). These findings make a strong argument for an “intron definition model,” according to which regulatory sequences within a downstream intron are capable of enforcing exon inclusion even in the absence of a defined upstream 3′ ss of an alternatively spliced exon.
SMN1; SMN2; SMA; TIA1; Splicing; ISS-N1; hnRNPA1
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by low levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. In humans, SMN1 and SMN2 encode the SMN protein. In SMA patients, the SMN1 gene is lost and the remaining SMN2 gene only partially compensates. Mediated by a C>T nucleotide transition in SMN2, the inefficient recognition of exon 7 by the splicing machinery results in low levels of SMN. Because the SMN2 gene is capable of expressing SMN protein, correction of SMN2 splicing is an attractive therapeutic option. Although current mouse models of SMA characterized by Smn knock-out alleles in combination with SMN2 transgenes adequately model the disease phenotype, their complex genetics and short lifespan have hindered the development and testing of therapies aimed at SMN2 splicing correction. Here we show that the mouse and human minigenes are regulated similarly by conserved elements within in exon 7 and its downstream intron. Importantly, the C>T mutation is sufficient to induce exon 7 skipping in the mouse minigene as in the human SMN2. When the mouse Smn gene was humanized to carry the C>T mutation, keeping it under the control of the endogenous promoter, and in the natural genomic context, the resulting mice exhibit exon 7 skipping and mild adult onset SMA characterized by muscle weakness, decreased activity and an alteration of the muscle fibers size. This Smn C>T mouse represents a new model for an adult onset form of SMA (type III/IV) also know as the Kugelberg–Welander disease.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neurological disorder characterized by motor neuron degeneration and progressive muscle paralysis. The disease is caused by a reduction in survival of motor neuron (SMN) protein resulting from homozygous deletion of the SMN1 gene. SMN protein is also encoded by SMN2. However, splicing of SMN2 exon 7 is defective, and consequently, the majority of the transcripts produce a truncated, unstable protein. SMN protein itself has a role in splicing. The protein is required for the biogenesis of spliceosomal snRNPs, which are essential components of the splicing reaction. We now show that SMN protein abundance affects the splicing of SMN2 exon 7, revealing a feedback loop inSMN expression. The reduced SMN protein concentration observed in SMA samples and in cells depleted of SMN correlates with a decrease in cellular snRNA levels and a decrease in SMN2 exon 7 splicing. Furthermore, altering the relative abundance or activity of individual snRNPs has distinct effects on exon 7 splicing, demonstrating that core spliceosomal snRNPs influence SMN2 alternative splicing. Our results identify a feedback loop in SMN expression by which low SMN protein levels exacerbate SMN exon 7 skipping, leading to a further reduction in SMN protein. These results imply that a modest increase in SMN protein abundance may cause a disproportionately large increase in SMN expression, a finding that is important for assessing the therapeutic potential of SMA treatments and understanding disease pathogenesis.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. Most SMA cases are associated with the low levels of SMN owing to deletion of Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1). SMN2, a nearly identical copy of SMN1, fails to compensate for the loss of SMN1 due to predominant skipping of exon 7. Hence, correction of aberrant splicing of SMN2 exon 7 holds the potential for cure of SMA. Here we report an 8-mer antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) to have a profound stimulatory response on correction of aberrant splicing of SMN2 exon 7 by binding to a unique GC-rich sequence located within intron 7 of SMN2. We confirm that the splicing-switching ability of this short ASO comes with a high degree of specificity and reduced off-target effect compared to larger ASOs targeting the same sequence. We further demonstrate that a single low nanomolar dose of this 8-mer ASO substantially increases the levels of SMN and a host of factors including Gemin 2, Gemin 8, ZPR1, hnRNP Q and Tra2-β1 known to be down-regulated in SMA. Our findings underscore the advantages and unmatched potential of very short ASOs in splicing modulation in vivo.
survival motor neuron (SMN); SMN1; SMN2; alternative splicing; intron 7; exon 7; ISS-N1; GC-rich sequence; antisense oligonucleotide (ASO); 8-mer ASO; SMA
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disease caused by low levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. The reduced SMN levels are due to loss of the survival motor neuron-1 (SMN1) gene. Humans carry a nearly identical SMN2 gene that generates a truncated protein, due to a C to T nucleotide alteration in exon 7 that leads to inefficient RNA splicing of exon 7. This exclusion of SMN exon 7 is central to the onset of the SMA disease, however, this offers a unique therapeutic intervention in which corrective splicing of the SMN2 gene would restore SMN function. Exon 7 splicing is regulated by a number of exonic and intronic splicing regulatory sequences and trans-factors that bind them. A better understanding of the way SMN pre-mRNA is spliced has lead to the development of targeted therapies aimed at correcting SMN2 splicing. As therapeutics targeted toward correction of SMN2 splicing continue to be developed available SMA mouse models can be utilized in validating their potential in disease treatment.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); pre-mRNA Splicing; Intronic Splicing Enhancer (ISE); Exonic Splicing Enhancer (ESE); RNA Therapy
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disorder for which there is no available therapy. SMA is caused by loss or mutation of the survival motor neuron 1 gene, SMN1, with retention of a nearly identical copy gene, SMN2. In contrast to SMN1, most SMN2 transcripts lack exon 7. This alternatively spliced transcript, Δ7-SMN, encodes a truncated protein that is rapidly degraded. Inhibiting this degradation may be of therapeutic value for the treatment of SMA. Recently aminoglycosides, which decrease translational fidelity to promote readthrough of termination codons, were shown to increase SMN levels in patient cell lines. Amid uncertainty concerning the role of SMN's C-terminus, the potential of translational readthrough as a therapeutic mechanism for SMA is unclear. Here, we used stable cell lines to demonstrate the SMN C-terminus modulates protein stability in a sequence-independent manner that is reproducible by translational readthrough. Geneticin (G418) was then identified as a potent inducer of the Δ7-SMN target sequence in vitro through a novel quantitative assay amenable to high throughput screens. Subsequent treatment of patient cell lines demonstrated that G418 increases SMN levels and is a potential lead compound. Furthermore, treatment of SMA mice with G418 increased both SMN protein and mouse motor function. Chronic administration, however, was associated with toxicity that may have prevented the detection of a survival benefit. Collectively, these results substantiate a sequence independent role of SMN's C-terminus in protein stability and provide the first in vivo evidence supporting translational readthrough as a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of SMA.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by loss of the Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, resulting in reduced SMN protein. Humans possess the additional SMN2 gene (or genes) that does produce low level of full length SMN, but cannot adequately compensate for loss of SMN1 due to aberrant splicing. The majority of SMN2 gene transcripts lack exon 7 and the resultant SMNΔ7 mRNA is translated into an unstable and non-functional protein. Splice intervention therapies to promote exon 7 retention and increase amounts of full-length SMN2 transcript offer great potential as a treatment for SMA patients. Several splice silencing motifs in SMN2 have been identified as potential targets for antisense oligonucleotide mediated splice modification. A strong splice silencer is located downstream of exon 7 in SMN2 intron 7. Antisense oligonucleotides targeting this motif promoted SMN2 exon 7 retention in the mature SMN2 transcripts, with increased SMN expression detected in SMA fibroblasts. We report here systematic optimisation of phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligonucleotides (PMO) that promote exon 7 retention to levels that rescued the phenotype in a severe mouse model of SMA after intracerebroventricular delivery. Furthermore, the PMO gives the longest survival reported to date after a single dosing by ICV.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) affects about 1 in every 6000 children born and is the leading genetic cause of infant death. SMA is a recessive disorder caused by the mutation or deletion of Survival Motor Neuron-1 (SMN1). SMN2, a nearly identical copy gene, has the potential to encode the same protein as SMN1 and is retained in all SMA patients. The majority of SMN2-derived transcripts are alternatively spliced and therefore encode a truncated isoform lacking exon 7 (SMNΔ7), which is a defective protein because it is unstable, has a reduced ability to self-associate and is unable to efficiently function in SMN cellular activities. However, we have shown that the SMN C-terminus functions non-specifically, since heterologous sequences can compensate for the exon 7 sequence. Several classes of compounds identified in SMN-inducing high throughput screens have been proposed to function through a read-through mechanism; however, a functional analysis of the SMNΔ7 read-through product has not been performed. In this report, the SMNΔ7 read-through product is characterized and compared to the SMNΔ7 protein. In a series of in vitro and cell based assays, SMNΔ7 read-through product is shown to increase protein stability, promote neurite outgrowths in SMN deficient neurons, and significantly elevate SMN-dependent UsnRNP assembly in extracts from SMA patient fibroblasts. Collectively, these results demonstrate that SMNΔ7 read-through product is more active than the SMNΔ7 protein and suggest that SMA therapeutics that specifically induce SMNΔ7 read-through may provide an alternative platform for drug discovery.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); Read-through
Humans have two near identical copies of Survival Motor Neuron gene: SMN1 and SMN2. Loss of SMN1 coupled with the predominant skipping of SMN2 exon 7 causes spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neurodegenerative disease. SMA patient cells devoid of SMN1 provide a powerful system to examine splicing pattern of various SMN2 exons. Until now, similar system to examine splicing of SMN1 exons was unavailable. We have recently screened several patient cell lines derived from various diseases, including SMA, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Batten disease. Here we report a Batten disease cell line that lacks functional SMN2, as an ideal system to examine pre-mRNA splicing of SMN1. We employ a multiple-exon-skipping detection assay (MESDA) to capture simultaneously skipping of multiple exons. Our results show surprising diversity of splice isoforms and reveal novel splicing events that include skipping of exon 4 and co-skipping of three adjacent exons of SMN. Contrary to the general belief, MESDA captured oxidative-stress induced skipping of SMN1 exon 5 in several cell types, including non-neuronal cells. We further demonstrate that the predominant SMN2 exon 7 skipping induced by oxidative stress is modulated by a combinatorial control that includes promoter sequence, endogenous context, and the weak splice sites. We also show that an 8-mer antisense oligonucleotide blocking a recently described GC-rich sequence prevents SMN2 exon 7 skipping under the conditions of oxidative stress. Our findings bring new insight into splicing regulation of an essential housekeeping gene linked to neurodegeneration and infant mortality.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive disease that leads to specific loss of motor neurons. It is caused by deletions or mutations of the survival of motor neuron 1 gene (SMN1). The remaining copy of the gene, SMN2, generates only low levels of the SMN protein due to a mutation in SMN2 exon 7 that leads to exon skipping.
To correct SMN2 splicing, we use Adenovirus type 5–derived vectors to express SMN2-antisense U7 snRNA oligonucleotides targeting the SMN intron 7/exon 8 junction. Infection of SMA type I–derived patient fibroblasts with these vectors resulted in increased levels of exon 7 inclusion, upregulating the expression of SMN to similar levels as in non–SMA control cells.
These results show that Adenovirus type 5–derived vectors delivering U7 antisense oligonucleotides can efficiently restore full-length SMN protein and suggest that the viral vector-mediated oligonucleotide application may be a suitable therapeutic approach to counteract SMA.
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disease caused by low levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. In humans there are two nearly identical SMN genes, SMN1 and SMN2. The SMN2 gene generates a truncated protein, due to a C to T nucleotide alteration in exon 7, which leads to inefficient RNA splicing of exon 7. This exclusion of SMN exon 7 is central to the onset of the SMA disease. Exon 7 splicing is regulated by a number of exonic and intronic splicing regulatory sequences and the trans-factors that bind them. Here we identify conserved intronic sequences in the SMN genes. Five regions were examined due to conservation and their proximity to exons 6 through 8. Using mutagenesis two conserved elements located in intron 7 of the SMN genes that affect exon 7 splicing have been identified. Additional analysis of one of these regions showed decreased inclusion of exon 7 in SMN transcripts when deletions or mutations were introduced. Furthermore, multimerization of this conserved region was capable of restoring correct SMN splicing. Together these results describe a novel intronic splicing enhancer sequence located in the final intron of the SMN genes. This discovery provides insight into the splicing of the SMN genes using conserved intonic sequence as a tool to uncover regions of importance in pre-messenger RNA splicing. A better understanding of the way SMN pre-mRNA is spliced can lead to the development of new therapies.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); pre-mRNA Splicing; Intronic Splicing Enhancer
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder and a leading genetic cause of infantile mortality. SMA is caused by mutation or deletion of Survival Motor Neuron-1 (SMN1). The clinical features of the disease are caused by specific degeneration of α-motor neurons in the spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness, atrophy and, in the majority of cases, premature death. A highly homologous copy gene (SMN2) is retained in almost all SMA patients but fails to generate adequate levels of SMN protein due to its defective splicing pattern. The severity of the SMA phenotype is inversely correlated with SMN2 copy number and the level of full-length SMN protein produced by SMN2 (∼10–15% compared with SMN1). The natural history of SMA has been altered over the past several decades, primarily through supportive care measures, but an effective treatment does not presently exist. However, the common genetic etiology and recent progress in pre-clinical models suggest that SMA is well-suited for the development of therapeutic regimens. We summarize recent advances in translational research that hold promise for the progression towards clinical trials.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease associated with low levels of the essential survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. Reduced levels of SMN is due to the loss of the SMN1 gene and inefficient splicing of the SMN2 gene caused by a C>T mutation in exon 7. Global analysis of the severe SMNΔ7 SMA mouse model revealed altered splicing and increased levels of the hypoxia-inducible transcript, Hif3alpha, at late stages of disease progression. Severe SMA patients also develop respiratory deficiency during disease progression. We sought to evaluate whether hypoxia was capable of altering SMN2 exon 7 splicing and whether increased oxygenation could modulate disease in a severe SMA mouse model. Hypoxia treatment in cell culture increased SMN2 exon 7 skipping and reduced SMN protein levels. Concordantly, the treatment of SMNΔ7 mice with hyperoxia treatment increased the inclusion of SMN2 exon 7 in skeletal muscles and resulted in improved motor function. Transfection splicing assays of SMN minigenes under hypoxia revealed that hypoxia-induced skipping is dependent on poor exon definition due to the SMN2 C>T mutation and suboptimal 5′ splice site. Hypoxia treatment in cell culture led to increased hnRNP A1 and Sam68 levels. Mutation of hnRNP A1-binding sites prevented hypoxia-induced skipping of SMN exon 7 and was found to bind both hnRNP A1 and Sam68. These results implicate hypoxic stress as a modulator of SMN2 exon 7 splicing in disease progression and a coordinated regulation by hnRNP A1 and Sam68 as modifiers of hypoxia-induced skipping of SMN exon 7.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder and is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. SMA is caused by the loss of survival motor neuron-1 (SMN1). In humans, a nearly identical copy gene is present called SMN2, but this gene cannot compensate for the loss of SMN1 because of a single silent nucleotide difference in SMN2 exon 7. This single-nucleotide difference attenuates an exonic splice enhancer, resulting in the production of an alternatively spliced isoform lacking exon 7, which is essential for protein function. SMN2, however, is a critical disease modifier and is an outstanding target for therapeutic intervention because all SMA patients retain SMN2 and SMN2 maintains the same coding sequence as SMN1. Therefore, compounds or molecules that increase SMN2 exon 7 inclusion hold great promise for SMA therapeutics. Bifunctional RNAs have been previously used to increase SMN protein levels and derive their name from the presence of two domains: an antisense RNA sequence specific to the target RNA and an untethered RNA segment that serves as a binding platform for splicing factors. This study was designed to develop negatively acting bifunctional RNAs that recruit hnRNPA1 to exon 8 and block the general splicing machinery from the exon 8. By blocking the downstream splice site, this could competitively favor the inclusion of SMN exon 7 and therefore increase full-length SMN production. Here we identify a bifunctional RNA that stimulated full-length SMN expression in a variety of cell-based assays including SMA patient fibroblasts. Importantly, this molecule was also able to induce SMN expression in a previously described mouse model of SMA and demonstrates a novel therapeutic approach for SMA as well as a variety of diseases caused by a defect in splicing.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a recessive genetic disease, affects lower motoneurons leading to denervation, atrophy, paralysis and in severe cases death. Reduced levels of survival motor neuron (SMN) protein cause SMA. As a first step towards generating a genetic model of SMA in zebrafish, we identified three smn mutations. Two of these alleles, smnY262stop and smnL265stop, were stop mutations that resulted in exon 7 truncation, whereas the third, smnG264D, was a missense mutation corresponding to an amino acid altered in human SMA patients. Smn protein levels were low/undetectable in homozygous mutants consistent with unstable protein products. Homozygous mutants from all three alleles were smaller and survived on the basis of maternal Smn dying during the second week of larval development. Analysis of the neuromuscular system in these mutants revealed a decrease in the synaptic vesicle protein, SV2. However, two other synaptic vesicle proteins, synaptotagmin and synaptophysin were unaffected. To address whether the SV2 decrease was due specifically to Smn in motoneurons, we tested whether expressing human SMN protein exclusively in motoneurons in smn mutants could rescue the phenotype. For this, we generated a transgenic zebrafish line with human SMN driven by the motoneuron-specific zebrafish hb9 promoter and then generated smn mutant lines carrying this transgene. We found that introducing human SMN specifically into motoneurons rescued the SV2 decrease observed in smn mutants. Our analysis indicates the requirement for Smn in motoneurons to maintain SV2 in presynaptic terminals indicating that Smn, either directly or indirectly, plays a role in presynaptic integrity.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder, is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. SMA is caused by the homozygous loss of Survival Motor Neuron-1 (SMN1). In humans, a nearly identical copy gene is present, SMN2. SMN2 is retained in all SMA patients and encodes the same protein as SMN1. However, SMN1 and SMN2 differ by a silent C-to-T transition at the 5’ end of exon 7, causing alternative splicing of SMN2 transcripts and low levels of full-length SMN. SMA is monogenic and therefore well suited for gene-replacement strategies. Recently, self-complementary adeno-associated virus (scAAV) vectors have been used to deliver the SMN cDNA to an animal model of disease, the SMNΔ7 mouse. In this study, we examine a severe model of SMA, Smn–/–;SMN2+/+, to determine whether gene replacement is viable in a model in which disease development begins in utero. Using two delivery paradigms, intracerebroventricular injections and intravenous injections, we delivered scAAV9-SMN and demonstrated a two to four fold increase in survival, in addition to improving many of the phenotypic parameters of the model. This represents the longest extension in survival for this severe model for any therapeutic intervention and suggests that postsymptomatic treatment of SMA may lead to significant improvement of disease severity.
Glascock and colleagues investigate gene replacement of survival motor neuron-2 (SMN2) in a mouse model of severe spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in which disease development begins in utero. Self-complementary adeno-associated vector type 9 (AAV9) encoding SMN is delivered via intracerebroventricular or intravenous injection, resulting in a 2- to 4-fold increase in survival and improving many SMA phenotypic parameters.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by low survival motor neuron (SMN) levels and patients represent a clinical spectrum due primarily to varying copies of the survival motor neuron-2 (SMN2) gene. Patient and animals studies show that disease severity is abrogated as SMN levels increase. Since therapies currently being pursued target the induction of SMN, it will be important to understand the dosage, timing and cellular requirements of SMN for disease etiology and potential therapeutic intervention. This requires new mouse models that can induce SMN temporally and/or spatially. Here we describe the generation of two hypomorphic Smn alleles, SmnC-T-Neo and Smn2B-Neo. These alleles mimic SMN2 exon 7 splicing, titre Smn levels and are inducible. They were specifically designed so that up to three independent lines of mice could be generated, herein we describe two. In a homozygous state each allele results in embryonic lethality. Analysis of these mutants indicates that greater than 5% of Smn protein is required for normal development. The severe hypomorphic nature of these alleles is caused by inclusion of a loxP-flanked neomycin gene selection cassette in Smn intron 7, which can be removed with Cre recombinase. In vitro and in vivo experiments demonstrate these as inducible Smn alleles. When combined with an inducible Cre mouse, embryonic lethality caused by low Smn levels can be rescued early in gestation but not late. This provides direct genetic evidence that a therapeutic window for SMN inductive therapies may exist. Importantly, these lines fill a void for inducible Smn alleles. They also provide a base from which to generate a large repertoire of SMA models of varying disease severities when combined with other Smn alleles or SMN2-containing mice.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a leading genetic cause of infantile death and occurs in approximately 1/6000 live births. SMA is caused by the loss of Survival Motor Neuron-1 (SMN1), however, all patients retain at least one copy of a nearly identical gene called SMN2. While SMN2 and SMN1 are comprised of identical coding sequences, the majority of SMN2 transcripts are alternatively spliced, encoding a truncated protein that is unstable and non-functional. Considerable effort has focused upon modulating the SMN2 alternative splicing event since this would produce more wildtype protein. Recently we reported the development of an optimized trans-splicing system that involved the co-expression of a SMN2 trans-splicing RNA and an anti-sense RNA that blocks a downstream splice site in SMN2 pre-mRNA. Here we demonstrate that in vivo delivery of the optimized trans-splicing vector increases an important SMN-dependent activity, snRNP assembly, in disease-relevant tissue in the SMA mouse model. A single injection of the vector into the intracerebral-ventricular space in SMA neonates also lessens the severity of the SMA phenotype in a severe SMA mouse model, extending survival ~70%. Collectively, these results provide the first in vivo demonstration that SMN2 trans-splicing leads to a lessening of the severity of the SMA phenotype and provide evidence for the power of this strategy for reprogramming genetic diseases at the pre-mRNA level.
Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); trans-splicing; RNA; neurodegeneration; therapeutics
Humans have two nearly identical copies of the survival motor neuron (SMN ) gene, SMN1 and SMN2. Homozygous loss of SMN1 causes spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). SMN2 is unable to prevent the disease due to skipping of exon 7. Using a systematic approach of in vivo selection, we have previously demonstrated that a weak 5′ splice site (ss) serves as the major cause of skipping of SMN2 exon 7. Here we show the inhibitory impact of RNA structure on the weak 5′ ss of exon 7. We call this structure terminal stem–loop 2 (TSL2). Confirming the inhibitory nature of TSL2, point mutations that destabilize TSL2 promote exon 7 inclusion in SMN2, whereas strengthening of TSL2 promotes exon 7 skipping even in SMN1. We also demonstrate that TSL2 negatively affects the recruitment of U1snRNP at the 5′ ss of exon 7. Using enzymatic structure probing, we confirm that the sequence at the junction of exon 7/intron 7 folds into TSL2 and show that mutations in TSL2 cause predicted structural changes in this region. Our findings reveal for the first time the critical role of RNA structure in regulation of alternative splicing of human SMN.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of infant death results from loss of spinal motor neurons causing atrophy of skeletal muscle. SMA is caused by loss of the Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, however, an identically-coding gene called SMN2 is retained, but is alternatively spliced to produce ~90% truncated protein. Most SMA translational and preclinical drug development has relied on the use of SMA mice to determine changes in SMN protein levels. However, the SMA mouse models are relatively severe and analysis of SMN-inducing compounds is confounded by the early mortality of these animals. An antibody that could detect SMN protein on a Smn background could circumvent this limitation and allow unaffected, heterozygous animals to be examined. Here we describe the generation and characterization of a monoclonal anti-SMN antibody, 4F11, which specifically recognizes human SMN protein. 4F11 detects SMN (human) but not native Smn (mouse) protein in SMN2 transgenic mice and in SMA cell lines. We demonstrate the feasibility of using 4F11 to detect changes in SMN2-derived SMN protein in SMA patient fibroblasts and in healthy SMN2 transgenic mice. This antibody is, therefore, an excellent tool for examining SMN2-inducing therapeutics in patient cells as well as in transgenic mice.
spinal muscular atrophy; transgenic mouse; monoclonal antibody; biomarker; motor neuron disease; gem; survival motor neuron
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a motor neuron disease caused by the loss of survival motor neuron-1 (SMN1). A nearly identical copy gene, SMN2, is present in all SMA patients, which produces low levels of functional protein. Although the SMN2 coding sequence has the potential to produce normal, full-length SMN, ∼90% of SMN2-derived transcripts are alternatively spliced and encode a truncated protein lacking the final coding exon (exon 7). SMN2, however, is an excellent therapeutic target. Previously, we developed bifunctional RNAs that bound SMN exon 7 and modulated SMN2 splicing. To optimize the efficiency of the bifunctional RNAs, a different antisense target was required. To this end, we genetically verified the identity of a putative intronic repressor and developed bifunctional RNAs that target this sequence. Consequently, there is a 2-fold mechanism of SMN induction: inhibition of the intronic repressor and recruitment of SR proteins via the SR recruitment sequence of the bifunctional RNA. The bifunctional RNAs effectively increased SMN in human primary SMA fibroblasts. Lead candidates were synthesized as 2′-O-methyl RNAs and were directly injected in the central nervous system of SMA mice. Single-RNA injections were able to illicit a robust induction of SMN protein in the brain and throughout the spinal column of neonatal SMA mice. In a severe model of SMA, mean life span was extended following the delivery of bifunctional RNAs. This technology has direct implications for the development of an SMA therapy, but also lends itself to a multitude of diseases caused by aberrant pre-mRNA splicing.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an inherited motor neuron disease caused by homozygous loss of the Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1) gene. In the absence of SMN1, inefficient inclusion of exon 7 in transcripts from the nearly identical SMN2 gene results in ubiquitous SMN decrease but selective motor neuron degeneration. Here we investigated whether cell type-specific differences in the efficiency of exon 7 splicing contribute to the vulnerability of SMA motor neurons. We show that normal motor neurons express markedly lower levels of full-length SMN mRNA from SMN2 than do other cells in the spinal cord. This is due to inefficient exon 7 splicing that is intrinsic to motor neurons under normal conditions. We also find that SMN depletion in mammalian cells decreases exon 7 inclusion through a negative feedback loop affecting the splicing of its own mRNA. This mechanism is active in vivo and further decreases the efficiency of exon 7 inclusion specifically in motor neurons of severe-SMA mice. Consistent with expression of lower levels of full-length SMN, we find that SMN-dependent downstream molecular defects are exacerbated in SMA motor neurons. These findings suggest a mechanism to explain the selective vulnerability of motor neurons to loss of SMN1.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disorder characterized by degeneration of spinal cord motoneurons (MNs), resulting in muscular atrophy and weakness. SMA is caused by mutations in the Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1) gene and decreased SMN protein. SMN is ubiquitously expressed and has a general role in the assembly of small nuclear ribonucleoproteins and pre-mRNA splicing requirements. SMN reduction causes neurite degeneration and cell death without classical apoptotic features, but the direct events leading to SMN degeneration in SMA are still unknown. Autophagy is a conserved lysosomal protein degradation pathway whose precise roles in neurodegenerative diseases remain largely unknown. In particular, it is unclear whether autophagosome accumulation is protective or destructive, but the accumulation of autophagosomes in the neuritic beadings observed in several neurite degeneration models suggests a close relationship between the autophagic process and neurite collapse. In the present work, we describe an increase in the levels of the autophagy markers including autophagosomes, Beclin1 and light chain (LC)3-II proteins in cultured mouse spinal cord MNs from two SMA cellular models, suggesting an upregulation of the autophagy process in Smn (murine survival motor neuron protein)-reduced MNs. Overexpression of Bcl-xL counteracts LC3-II increase, contributing to the hypothesis that the protective role of Bcl-xL observed in some SMA models may be mediated by its role in autophagy inhibition. Our in vitro experimental data indicate an upregulation in the autophagy process and autophagosome accumulation in the pathogenesis of SMA, thus providing a valuable clue in understanding the mechanisms of axonal degeneration and a possible therapeutic target in the treatment of SMA.
spinal muscular atrophy; motoneuron; autophagy; Bcl-xL; SMN; neurotrophic factors
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal-recessive disorder characterized by α-motor neuron loss in the spinal cord anterior horn. SMA results from deletion or mutation of the Survival Motor Neuron 1 gene (SMN1) and retention of SMN2. A single nucleotide difference between SMN1 and SMN2 results in exclusion of exon 7 from the majority of SMN2 transcripts, leading to decreased SMN protein levels and development of SMA. A series of splice enhancers and silencers regulate incorporation of SMN2 exon 7; these splice motifs can be blocked with antisense oligomers (ASOs) to alter SMN2 transcript splicing. We have evaluated a morpholino (MO) oligomer against ISS-N1 [HSMN2Ex7D(−10,−29)], and delivered this MO to postnatal day 0 (P0) SMA pups (Smn−/−, SMN2+/+, SMN▵7+/+) by intracerebroventricular (ICV) injection. Survival was increased markedly from 15 days to >100 days. Delayed CNS MO injection has moderate efficacy, and delayed peripheral injection has mild survival advantage, suggesting that early CNS ASO administration is essential for SMA therapy consideration. ICV treatment increased full-length SMN2 transcript as well as SMN protein in neural tissue, but only minimally in peripheral tissue. Interval analysis shows a decrease in alternative splice modification over time. We suggest that CNS increases of SMN will have a major impact on SMA, and an early increase of the SMN level results in correction of motor phenotypes. Finally, the early introduction by intrathecal delivery of MO oligomers is a potential treatment for SMA patients.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infantile death. It is caused by the loss of functional Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1). There is a nearly identical copy gene, SMN2, but it is unable to rescue from disease due to an alternative splicing event that excises a necessary exon (exon 7) from the majority of SMN2-derived transcripts. While SMNΔ7 protein has severely reduced functionality, the exon 7 sequences may not be specifically required for all activities. Therefore, aminoglycoside antibiotics previously shown to suppress stop codon recognition and promote translation read-through have been examined to increase the length of the SMNΔ7 C-terminus.
Here we demonstrate that subcutaneous-administration of a read-through inducing compound (TC007) to an intermediate SMA model (Smn-/-; SMN2+/+; SMNΔ7) had beneficial effects on muscle fiber size and gross motor function.
Delivery of the read-through inducing compound TC007 reduces the disease-associated phenotype in SMA mice, however, does not significantly extend survival.