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1.  A Negatively Acting Bifunctional RNA Increases Survival Motor Neuron Both In Vitro and In Vivo 
Human Gene Therapy  2008;19(11):1307-1315.
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.
PMCID: PMC2940461  PMID: 19848583
2.  Enhancement of SMN2 Exon 7 Inclusion by Antisense Oligonucleotides Targeting the Exon 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(4):e73.
Several strategies have been pursued to increase the extent of exon 7 inclusion during splicing of SMN2 (survival of motor neuron 2) transcripts, for eventual therapeutic use in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disease. Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that target an exon or its flanking splice sites usually promote exon skipping. Here we systematically tested a large number of ASOs with a 2′-O-methoxy-ethyl ribose (MOE) backbone that hybridize to different positions of SMN2 exon 7, and identified several that promote greater exon inclusion, others that promote exon skipping, and still others with complex effects on the accumulation of the two alternatively spliced products. This approach provides positional information about presumptive exonic elements or secondary structures with positive or negative effects on exon inclusion. The ASOs are effective not only in cell-free splicing assays, but also when transfected into cultured cells, where they affect splicing of endogenous SMN transcripts. The ASOs that promote exon 7 inclusion increase full-length SMN protein levels, demonstrating that they do not interfere with mRNA export or translation, despite hybridizing to an exon. Some of the ASOs we identified are sufficiently active to proceed with experiments in SMA mouse models.
Author Summary
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a severe genetic disease that causes motor-neuron degeneration. SMA patients lack a functional SMN1 (survival of motor neuron 1) gene, but they possess an intact SMN2 gene, which though nearly identical to SMN1, is only partially functional. The defect in SMN2 gene expression is at the level of pre-mRNA splicing (skipping of exon 7), and the presence of this gene in all SMA patients makes it an attractive target for potential therapy. Here we have surveyed a large number of antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) that are complementary to different regions of exon 7 in the SMN2 mRNA. A few of these ASOs are able to correct the pre-mRNA splicing defect, presumably because they bind to regions of exon 7 that form RNA structures, or provide protein-binding sites, that normally weaken the recognition of this exon by the splicing machinery in the cell nucleus. We describe optimal ASOs that promote correct expression of SMN2 mRNA and, therefore, normal SMN protein, in cultured cells from SMA patients. These ASOs can now be tested in mouse models of SMA, and may be useful for SMA therapy.
Mutations inSMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy; a nearly identical gene is not functional, but becomes functional in vitro and in vivo after addition of antisense oligos.
PMCID: PMC1820610  PMID: 17355180
3.  A humanized Smn gene containing the SMN2 nucleotide alteration in exon 7 mimics SMN2 splicing and the SMA disease phenotype 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(21):4239-4252.
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.
PMCID: PMC2951869  PMID: 20705738
4.  A feedback loop regulates splicing of the spinal muscular atrophy-modifying gene, SMN2 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(24):4906-4917.
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.
PMCID: PMC2989896  PMID: 20884664
5.  Alternative splicing in spinal muscular atrophy underscores the role of an intron definition model 
RNA Biology  2011;8(4):600-606.
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.
PMCID: PMC3225979  PMID: 21654213
SMN1; SMN2; SMA; TIA1; Splicing; ISS-N1; hnRNPA1
6.  A Multi-Exon-Skipping Detection Assay Reveals Surprising Diversity of Splice Isoforms of Spinal Muscular Atrophy Genes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49595.
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.
PMCID: PMC3501452  PMID: 23185376
7.  Translational readthrough by the aminoglycoside geneticin (G418) modulates SMN stability in vitro and improves motor function in SMA mice in vivo 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(7):1310-1322.
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.
PMCID: PMC2655772  PMID: 19150990
8.  Delivery of bifunctional RNAs that target an intronic repressor and increase SMN levels in an animal model of spinal muscular atrophy 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(9):1600-1611.
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.
PMCID: PMC2667287  PMID: 19228773
9.  Improved Antisense Oligonucleotide Design to Suppress Aberrant SMN2 Gene Transcript Processing: Towards a Treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62114.
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.
PMCID: PMC3632594  PMID: 23630626
10.  Antisense oligonucleotide mediated therapy of spinal muscular atrophy 
Translational neuroscience  2013;4(1):10.2478/s13380-013-0109-2.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. SMA results from deletions or mutations of survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1), an essential gene. SMN2, a nearly identical copy, can compensate for SMN1 loss if SMN2 exon 7 skipping is prevented. Among the many cis-elements involved in the splicing regulation of SMN exon 7, intronic splicing silencer N1 (ISS-N1) has emerged as the most effective target for an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO)-mediated splicing correction of SMN2 exon 7. Blocking of ISS-N1 by an ASO has been shown to fully restore SMN2 exon 7 inclusion in SMA patient cells as well as in vivo. Here we review how ISS-N1 targeting ASOs that use different chemistries respond differently in the various SMA mouse models. We also compare other ASO-based strategies for therapeutic splicing correction in SMA. Given that substantial progress on ASO-based strategies to promote SMN2 exon 7 inclusion in SMA has been made, and that similar approaches in a growing number of genetic diseases are possible, this report has wide implications.
PMCID: PMC3832262  PMID: 24265944
Antisense oligonucleotide; splicing; ISS-N1; ASO; SMA; SMN; PMO; MOE
11.  A single administration of morpholino antisense oligomer rescues spinal muscular atrophy in mouse 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(7):1625-1638.
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.
PMCID: PMC3298284  PMID: 22186025
12.  A SMNΔ7 read-through product confers functionality to the SMNΔ7 protein 
Neuroscience letters  2008;442(1):54-58.
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.
PMCID: PMC2529149  PMID: 18601974
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); Read-through
13.  Generation and Characterization of a genetic zebrafish model of SMA carrying the human SMN2 gene 
Animal models of human diseases are essential as they allow analysis of the disease process at the cellular level and can advance therapeutics by serving as a tool for drug screening and target validation. Here we report the development of a complete genetic model of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in the vertebrate zebrafish to complement existing zebrafish, mouse, and invertebrate models and show its utility for testing compounds that alter SMN2 splicing.
The human motoneuron disease SMA is caused by low levels, as opposed to a complete absence, of the survival motor neuron protein (SMN). To generate a true model of SMA in zebrafish, we have generated a transgenic zebrafish expressing the human SMN2 gene (hSMN2), which produces only a low amount of full-length SMN, and crossed this onto the smn-/- background. We show that human SMN2 is spliced in zebrafish as it is in humans and makes low levels of SMN protein. Moreover, we show that an antisense oligonucleotide that enhances correct hSMN2 splicing increases full-length hSMN RNA in this model. When we placed this transgene on the smn mutant background it rescued the neuromuscular presynaptic SV2 defect that occurs in smn mutants and increased their survival.
We have generated a transgenic fish carrying the human hSMN2 gene. This gene is spliced in fish as it is in humans and mice suggesting a conserved splicing mechanism in these vertebrates. Moreover, antisense targeting of an intronic splicing silencer site increased the amount of full length SMN generated from this transgene. Having this transgene on the smn mutant fish rescued the presynaptic defect and increased survival. This model of zebrafish SMA has all of the components of human SMA and can thus be used to understand motoneuron dysfunction in SMA, can be used as an vivo test for drugs or antisense approaches that increase full-length SMN, and can be developed for drug screening.
PMCID: PMC3080329  PMID: 21443782
14.  Decreasing Disease Severity in Symptomatic, Smn−/−;SMN2+/+, Spinal Muscular Atrophy Mice Following scAAV9-SMN Delivery 
Human Gene Therapy  2011;23(3):330-335.
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.
PMCID: PMC3300100  PMID: 22029744
15.  Splicing of a Critical Exon of Human Survival Motor Neuron Is Regulated by a Unique Silencer Element Located in the Last Intron 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2006;26(4):1333-1346.
Humans have two nearly identical copies of the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) gene, SMN1 and SMN2. In spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), SMN2 is not able to compensate for the loss of SMN1 due to exclusion of exon 7. Here we describe a novel inhibitory element located immediately downstream of the 5′ splice site in intron 7. We call this element intronic splicing silencer N1 (ISS-N1). Deletion of ISS-N1 promoted exon 7 inclusion in mRNAs derived from the SMN2 minigene. Underlining the dominant role of ISS-N1 in exon 7 skipping, abrogation of a number of positive cis elements was tolerated when ISS-N1 was deleted. Confirming the silencer function of ISS-N1, an antisense oligonucleotide against ISS-N1 restored exon 7 inclusion in mRNAs derived from the SMN2 minigene or from endogenous SMN2. Consistently, this oligonucleotide increased the levels of SMN protein in SMA patient-derived cells that carry only the SMN2 gene. Our findings underscore for the first time the profound impact of an evolutionarily nonconserved intronic element on SMN2 exon 7 splicing. Considering that oligonucleotides annealing to intronic sequences do not interfere with exon-junction complex formation or mRNA transport and translation, ISS-N1 provides a very specific and efficient therapeutic target for antisense oligonucleotide-mediated correction of SMN2 splicing in SMA.
PMCID: PMC1367187  PMID: 16449646
16.  Hypoxia is a modifier of SMN2 splicing and disease severity in a severe SMA mouse model 
Human Molecular Genetics  2012;21(19):4301-4313.
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.
PMCID: PMC3441125  PMID: 22763238
17.  A short antisense oligonucleotide masking a unique intronic motif prevents skipping of a critical exon in spinal muscular atrophy 
RNA biology  2009;6(3):341-350.
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.
PMCID: PMC2734876  PMID: 19430205
survival motor neuron (SMN); SMN1; SMN2; alternative splicing; intron 7; exon 7; ISS-N1; GC-rich sequence; antisense oligonucleotide (ASO); 8-mer ASO; SMA
18.  Detection of human survival motor neuron (SMN) protein in mice containing the SMN2 transgene: applicability to preclinical therapy development for spinal muscular atrophy 
Journal of neuroscience methods  2008;175(1):36-43.
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.
PMCID: PMC2613335  PMID: 18771690
spinal muscular atrophy; transgenic mouse; monoclonal antibody; biomarker; motor neuron disease; gem; survival motor neuron
19.  Mouse Survival Motor Neuron Alleles That Mimic SMN2 Splicing and Are Inducible Rescue Embryonic Lethality Early in Development but Not Late 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15887.
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.
PMCID: PMC3012126  PMID: 21249120
20.  Restoration of Full-Length SMN Promoted by Adenoviral Vectors Expressing RNA Antisense Oligonucleotides Embedded in U7 snRNAs 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(12):e8204.
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.
Methodology/Principal Findings
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.
PMCID: PMC2781471  PMID: 19997596
21.  Splicing regulation of the Survival Motor Neuron genes and implications for treatment of spinal muscular atrophy 
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.
PMCID: PMC2921696  PMID: 20515750
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); pre-mRNA Splicing; Intronic Splicing Enhancer (ISE); Exonic Splicing Enhancer (ESE); RNA Therapy
22.  Zebrafish survival motor neuron mutants exhibit presynaptic neuromuscular junction defects 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(19):3615-3625.
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.
PMCID: PMC2742401  PMID: 19592581
23.  Intron 7 conserved sequence elements regulate the splicing of the SMN genes 
Human genetics  2009;126(6):833-841.
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.
PMCID: PMC2891348  PMID: 19701774
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); pre-mRNA Splicing; Intronic Splicing Enhancer
24.  Delivery of a read-through inducing compound, TC007, lessens the severity of a spinal muscular atrophy animal model 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(20):3906-3913.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality and is caused by the loss of a functional SMN1 gene. In humans, there exists a nearly-identical copy gene known as SMN2 that encodes an identical protein as SMN1, but differs by a silent C to T transition within exon 7. This single nucleotide difference produces an alternatively spliced isoform, SMNΔ7, which encodes a rapidly degraded protein. The absence of the short peptide encoded by SMN exon 7 is critical in the disease development process; however, heterologous sequences can partially compensate for the SMN exon 7 peptide in several cellular assays. Consistent with this, aminoglycosides, compounds that can suppress efficient recognition of stop codons, resulted in significantly increased levels of SMN protein in SMA patient fibroblasts. We now examine the potential therapeutic capabilities of a novel aminoglycoside, TC007. In an intermediate SMA model (Smn−/−; SMN2+/+; SMNΔ7), when delivered directly to the central nervous system (CNS), TC007 induces SMN in both the brain and spinal cord, significantly increases lifespan (∼30%) and increases ventral horn cell number, consistent with its ability to increase SMN levels in induced pluripotent stem cell-derived human SMA motor neuron cultures. Collectively, these experiments are the first in vivo examination of therapeutics for SMA designed to induce read-through of the SMNΔ7 stop codon to show increased benefit by direct administration to the CNS.
PMCID: PMC2748896  PMID: 19625298
25.  Targeting SR Proteins Improves SMN Expression in Spinal Muscular Atrophy Cells 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e115205.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is one of the most common inherited causes of pediatric mortality. SMA is caused by deletions or mutations in the survival of motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, which results in SMN protein deficiency. Humans have a centromeric copy of the survival of motor neuron gene, SMN2, which is nearly identical to SMN1. However, SMN2 cannot compensate for the loss of SMN1 because SMN2 has a single-nucleotide difference in exon 7, which negatively affects splicing of the exon. As a result, most mRNA produced from SMN2 lacks exon 7. SMN2 mRNA lacking exon 7 encodes a truncated protein with reduced functionality. Improving SMN2 exon 7 inclusion is a goal of many SMA therapeutic strategies. The identification of regulators of exon 7 inclusion may provide additional therapeutic targets or improve the design of existing strategies. Although a number of regulators of exon 7 inclusion have been identified, the function of most splicing proteins in exon 7 inclusion is unknown. Here, we test the role of SR proteins and hnRNP proteins in SMN2 exon 7 inclusion. Knockdown and overexpression studies reveal that SRSF1, SRSF2, SRSF3, SRSF4, SRSF5, SRSF6, SRSF7, SRSF11, hnRNPA1/B1 and hnRNP U can inhibit exon 7 inclusion. Depletion of two of the most potent inhibitors of exon 7 inclusion, SRSF2 or SRSF3, in cell lines derived from SMA patients, increased SMN2 exon 7 inclusion and SMN protein. Our results identify novel regulators of SMN2 exon 7 inclusion, revealing potential targets for SMA therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4266657  PMID: 25506695

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