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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
The WRAP53 protein regulates the formation and maintenance of Cajal bodies (nuclear sub-organelles), as well as directs the recruitment of nuclear factors to Cajal bodies.
The WRAP53 gene gives rise to a p53 antisense transcript that regulates p53. This gene also encodes a protein that directs small Cajal body–specific RNAs to Cajal bodies. Cajal bodies are nuclear organelles involved in diverse functions such as processing ribonucleoproteins important for splicing. Here we identify the WRAP53 protein as an essential factor for Cajal body maintenance and for directing the survival of motor neuron (SMN) complex to Cajal bodies. By RNA interference and immunofluorescence we show that Cajal bodies collapse without WRAP53 and that new Cajal bodies cannot be formed. By immunoprecipitation we find that WRAP53 associates with the Cajal body marker coilin, the splicing regulatory protein SMN, and the nuclear import receptor importinβ, and that WRAP53 is essential for complex formation between SMN–coilin and SMN–importinβ. Furthermore, depletion of WRAP53 leads to accumulation of SMN in the cytoplasm and prevents the SMN complex from reaching Cajal bodies. Thus, WRAP53 mediates the interaction between SMN and associated proteins, which is important for nuclear targeting of SMN and the subsequent localization of the SMN complex to Cajal bodies. Moreover, we detect reduced WRAP53–SMN binding in patients with spinal muscular atrophy, which is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality worldwide, caused by mutations in SMN1. This suggests that loss of WRAP53-mediated SMN trafficking contributes to spinal muscular atrophy.
Cajal bodies, discovered more than 100 years ago by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, are sub-organelles found in the nucleus of proliferative cells and neurons. They have been implicated in a variety of nuclear functions including ribonucleoprotein maturation, spliceosome formation, histone mRNA processing, RNA polymerase assembly, telomerase biogenesis, and histone gene transcription. Concentrating relevant molecules within Cajal bodies may serve to increase the efficiency of specific nuclear functions. Here we identify the WRAP53 protein as an essential factor for Cajal body maintenance and for directing the splicing regulatory protein “survival of motor neuron” (SMN) complex to Cajal bodies. We show that WRAP53 is a constitutive component of Cajal bodies, and that knockdown of WRAP53 disrupts existing Cajal bodies and prevents formation of new Cajal bodies. Mechanistically, we find that WRAP53 recruits the SMN complex from the cytoplasm to Cajal bodies by mediating interactions between SMN, importinβ, and coilin. Finally, we report deficient WRAP53–SMN binding in patients with spinal muscular atrophy, suggesting a role in this pathology. This study not only reveals new functions of the WRAP53 protein, but also increases our understanding of the molecular mechanism behind Cajal body formation and recruitment of factors to Cajal bodies.
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 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.
Antisense oligonucleotide; splicing; ISS-N1; ASO; SMA; SMN; PMO; MOE
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 an autosomal recessive disease affecting ∼1 in 10,000 live births. The most striking component is the loss of α-motor neurons in the ventral horn of the spinal cord, resulting in progressive paralysis and eventually premature death. There is no current treatment paradigm other than supportive care, though the past 15 years has seen a striking advancement in understanding of both SMA genetics and molecular mechanisms. A variety of disease-modifying interventions are rapidly bridging the translational gap from the laboratory to clinical trials, including the application of antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) therapy for the correction of aberrant RNA splicing characteristic of SMA. Survival motor neuron (SMN) is a ubiquitously expressed 38-kD protein. Humans have two genes that produce SMN, SMN1 and SMN2, the former of which is deleted or nonfunctional in the majority of patients with SMA. These two genes are nearly identical with one exception, a C to T transition (C6T) within exon 7 of SMN2. C6T disrupts a modulator of splicing, leading to the exclusion of exon 7 from ∼90% of the mRNA transcript. The resultant truncated Δ7SMN protein does not oligomerize efficiently and is rapidly degraded. SMA can therefore be considered a disease of too little SMN protein. A number of cis-acting splice modifiers have been identified in the region of exon 7, the steric block of which enhances the retention of the exon and a resultant full-length mRNA sequence. ASOs targeted to these splice motifs have shown impressive phenotype rescue in multiple SMA mouse models.
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.
Recent analyses of complete genomes have revealed that alternative splicing became more prevalent and important during eukaryotic evolution. Alternative splicing augments the protein repertoire—particularly that of the human genome—and plays an important role in the development and function of differentiated cell types. However, splicing is also extremely vulnerable, and defects in the proper recognition of splicing signals can give rise to a variety of diseases. In this review, we discuss splicing correction therapies, by using the inherited disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) as an example. This lethal early childhood disorder is caused by deletions or other severe mutations of SMN1, a gene coding for the essential survival of motoneurons protein. A second gene copy present in humans and few non-human primates, SMN2, can only partly compensate for the defect because of a single nucleotide change in exon 7 that causes this exon to be skipped in the majority of mRNAs. Thus SMN2 is a prime therapeutic target for SMA. In recent years, several strategies based on small molecule drugs, antisense oligonucleotides or in vivo expressed RNAs have been developed that allow a correction of SMN2 splicing. For some of these, a therapeutic benefit has been demonstrated in mouse models for SMA. This means that clinical trials of such splicing therapies for SMA may become possible in the near future.
antisense oligonucleotides; bifunctional RNA; exon definition; gene therapy; motoneurons; splicing enhancer; U7snRNA
Spinal muscular atrophy is a severe motor neuron disease caused by inactivating mutations in the SMN1 gene leading to reduced levels of full-length functional SMN protein. SMN is a critical mediator of spliceosomal protein assembly, and complete loss or drastic reduction in protein leads to loss of cell viability. However, the reason for selective motor neuron degeneration when SMN is reduced to levels which are tolerated by all other cell types is not currently understood. Widespread splicing abnormalities have recently been reported at end-stage in a mouse model of SMA, leading to the proposition that disruption of efficient splicing is the primary mechanism of motor neuron death. However, it remains unclear whether splicing abnormalities are present during early stages of the disease, which would be a requirement for a direct role in disease pathogenesis. We performed exon-array analysis of RNA from SMN deficient mouse spinal cord at 3 time points, pre-symptomatic (P1), early symptomatic (P7), and late-symptomatic (P13). Compared to littermate control mice, SMA mice showed a time-dependent increase in the number of exons showing differential expression, with minimal differences between genotypes at P1 and P7, but substantial variation in late-symptomatic (P13) mice. Gene ontology analysis revealed differences in pathways associated with neuronal development as well as cellular injury. Validation of selected targets by RT–PCR confirmed the array findings and was in keeping with a shift between physiologically occurring mRNA isoforms. We conclude that the majority of splicing changes occur late in SMA and may represent a secondary effect of cell injury, though we cannot rule out significant early changes in a small number of transcripts crucial to motor neuron survival.
The identification of mutations in the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) gene as the cause of the severe motor neuron disorder spinal muscular atrophy is one of a number of discoveries implicating selective motor neuron vulnerability to defects in processing of RNA and its associated ribonucleoprotein complexes. An unresolved issue is whether loss of the general cellular function of SMN in spliceosomal assembly, which is predicted to result in widespread defects in mRNA splicing, is directly responsible for motor neuron death. We have used exon-specific microarrays to assess the degree of altered splicing in the spinal cord in a mouse model of SMA. Our finding that the vast majority of splicing changes are a late feature of the disease and may represent a shift to alternative isoform expression, rather than loss of splicing fidelity, provides evidence that widespread splicing disturbance is not a primary feature of the disease pathogenesis but a secondary effect of cell injury in a late phase of the disease. However, our study cannot rule out a role for subtle early changes in one or a few transcripts crucial to motor neuron survival expressed at low levels or in only in a sub-population of spinal cord cells.
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.
Loss-of-function mutations in SMN1 cause spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a leading genetic cause of infant mortality. The related SMN2 gene expresses suboptimal levels of functional SMN protein, due to a splicing defect. Many SMA patients reach adulthood, and there is also adult-onset (type IV) SMA. There is currently no animal model for adult-onset SMA, and the tissue-specific pathogenesis of post-developmental SMN deficiency remains elusive. Here, we use an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) to exacerbate SMN2 mis-splicing. Intracerebroventricular ASO injection in adult SMN2-transgenic mice phenocopies key aspects of adult-onset SMA, including delayed-onset motor dysfunction and relevant histopathological features. SMN2 mis-splicing increases during late-stage disease, likely accelerating disease progression. Systemic ASO injection in adult mice causes peripheral SMN2 mis-splicing and affects prognosis, eliciting marked liver and heart pathologies, with decreased IGF1 levels. ASO dose–response and time-course studies suggest that only moderate SMN levels are required in the adult central nervous system, and treatment with a splicing-correcting ASO shows a broad therapeutic time window. We describe distinctive pathological features of adult-onset and early-onset SMA.
adult-onset SMA; pathology; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy; splicing
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
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.
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
There is at present no cure or effective therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neurodegenerative disease that is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. SMA usually results from loss of the SMN1 (survival of motor neuron 1) gene, which leads to selective motor neuron degeneration. SMN2 is nearly identical to SMN1 but has a nucleotide replacement that causes exon 7 skipping, resulting in a truncated, unstable version of the SMA protein. SMN2 is present in all SMA patients, and correcting SMN2 splicing is a promising approach for SMA therapy. We identified a tetracycline-like compound, PTK-SMA1, which stimulates exon 7 splicing and increases SMN protein levels in vitro and in vivo in mice. Unlike previously identified molecules that stimulate SMN production via SMN2 promoter activation or undefined mechanisms, PTK-SMA1 is a unique therapeutic candidate in that it acts by directly stimulating splicing of exon 7. Synthetic small-molecule compounds such as PTK-SMA1 offer an alternative to antisense oligonucleotide therapies that are being developed as therapeutics for a number of disease-associated splicing defects.
The survival of motor neurons (SMN) gene is the disease gene of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a common motor neuron degenerative disease. The SMN protein is part of a complex containing several proteins, of which one, SIP1 (SMN interacting protein 1), has been characterized so far. The SMN complex is found in both the cytoplasm and in the nucleus, where it is concentrated in bodies called gems. In the cytoplasm, SMN and SIP1 interact with the Sm core proteins of spliceosomal small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), and they play a critical role in snRNP assembly. In the nucleus, SMN is required for pre-mRNA splicing, likely by serving in the regeneration of snRNPs. Here, we report the identification of another component of the SMN complex, a novel DEAD box putative RNA helicase, named Gemin3. Gemin3 interacts directly with SMN, as well as with SmB, SmD2, and SmD3. Immunolocalization studies using mAbs to Gemin3 show that it colocalizes with SMN in gems. Gemin3 binds SMN via its unique COOH-terminal domain, and SMN mutations found in some SMA patients strongly reduce this interaction. The presence of a DEAD box motif in Gemin3 suggests that it may provide the catalytic activity that plays a critical role in the function of the SMN complex on RNPs.
helicase; nuclear bodies; DnRNP biogenesis; splicing; spinal muscular atrophy