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1.  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.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddr600
PMCID: PMC3298284  PMID: 22186025
2.  Antisense Oligonucleotides for the Treatment of Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
Human Gene Therapy  2013;24(5):489-498.
Abstract
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.
doi:10.1089/hum.2012.225
PMCID: PMC3655628  PMID: 23544870
3.  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.
doi:10.2478/s13380-013-0109-2
PMCID: PMC3832262  PMID: 24265944
Antisense oligonucleotide; splicing; ISS-N1; ASO; SMA; SMN; PMO; MOE
4.  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
5.  Pathological impact of SMN2 mis-splicing in adult SMA mice 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2013;5(10):1586-1601.
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.
doi:10.1002/emmm.201302567
PMCID: PMC3799581  PMID: 24014320
adult-onset SMA; pathology; SMN2; spinal muscular atrophy; splicing
6.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050073
PMCID: PMC1820610  PMID: 17355180
7.  Decreasing Disease Severity in Symptomatic, Smn−/−;SMN2+/+, Spinal Muscular Atrophy Mice Following scAAV9-SMN Delivery 
Human Gene Therapy  2011;23(3):330-335.
Abstract
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.
doi:10.1089/hum.2011.166
PMCID: PMC3300100  PMID: 22029744
8.  Restoration of Full-Length SMN Promoted by Adenoviral Vectors Expressing RNA Antisense Oligonucleotides Embedded in U7 snRNAs 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(12):e8204.
Background
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.
Conclusions/Significance
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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008204
PMCID: PMC2781471  PMID: 19997596
9.  Genetic and expression studies of SMN2 gene in Russian patients with spinal muscular atrophy type II and III 
BMC Medical Genetics  2011;12:96.
Background
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA type I, II and III) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder caused by mutations in the survival motor neuron gene (SMN1). SMN2 is a centromeric copy gene that has been characterized as a major modifier of SMA severity. SMA type I patients have one or two SMN2 copies while most SMA type II patients carry three SMN2 copies and SMA III patients have three or four SMN2 copies. The SMN1 gene produces a full-length transcript (FL-SMN) while SMN2 is only able to produce a small portion of the FL-SMN because of a splice mutation which results in the production of abnormal SMNΔ7 mRNA.
Methods
In this study we performed quantification of the SMN2 gene copy number in Russian patients affected by SMA type II and III (42 and 19 patients, respectively) by means of real-time PCR. Moreover, we present two families consisting of asymptomatic carriers of a homozygous absence of the SMN1 gene. We also developed a novel RT-qPCR-based assay to determine the FL-SMN/SMNΔ7 mRNA ratio as SMA biomarker.
Results
Comparison of the SMN2 copy number and clinical features revealed a significant correlation between mild clinical phenotype (SMA type III) and presence of four copies of the SMN2 gene. In both asymptomatic cases we found an increased number of SMN2 copies in the healthy carriers and a biallelic SMN1 absence. Furthermore, the novel assay revealed a difference between SMA patients and healthy controls.
Conclusions
We suggest that the SMN2 gene copy quantification in SMA patients could be used as a prognostic tool for discrimination between the SMA type II and SMA type III diagnoses, whereas the FL-SMN/SMNΔ7 mRNA ratio could be a useful biomarker for detecting changes during SMA pharmacotherapy.
doi:10.1186/1471-2350-12-96
PMCID: PMC3146920  PMID: 21762474
10.  A Negatively Acting Bifunctional RNA Increases Survival Motor Neuron Both In Vitro and In Vivo 
Human Gene Therapy  2008;19(11):1307-1315.
Abstract
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.
doi:10.1089/hum.2008.067
PMCID: PMC2940461  PMID: 19848583
11.  Spinal muscular atrophy: mechanisms and therapeutic strategies 
Human Molecular Genetics  2010;19(R1):R111-R118.
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.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddq147
PMCID: PMC2875050  PMID: 20392710
12.  Knockdown of the survival motor neuron (Smn) protein in zebrafish causes defects in motor axon outgrowth and pathfinding 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2003;162(5):919-932.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by a loss of α motoneurons in the spinal cord. SMA is caused by low levels of the ubiquitously expressed survival motor neuron (Smn) protein. As it is unclear how low levels of Smn specifically affect motoneurons, we have modeled SMA in zebrafish, a vertebrate model organism with well-characterized motoneuron development. Using antisense morpholinos to reduce Smn levels throughout the entire embryo, we found motor axon–specific pathfinding defects. Reduction of Smn in individual motoneurons revealed that smn is acting cell autonomously. These results show for the first time, in vivo, that Smn functions in motor axon development and suggest that these early developmental defects may lead to subsequent motoneuron loss.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200303168
PMCID: PMC1761110  PMID: 12952942
SMA; SMN; motoneurons; zebrafish; morpholino
13.  Knockdown of the survival motor neuron (Smn) protein in zebrafish causes defects in motor axon outgrowth and pathfinding 
The Journal of cell biology  2003;162(5):919-931.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by a loss of α motoneurons in the spinal cord. SMA is caused by low levels of the ubiquitously expressed survival motor neuron (Smn) protein. As it is unclear how low levels of Smn specifically affect motoneurons, we have modeled SMA in zebrafish, a vertebrate model organism with well-characterized motoneuron development. Using antisense morpholinos to reduce Smn levels throughout the entire embryo, we found motor axon–specific pathfinding defects. Reduction of Smn in individual motoneurons revealed that smn is acting cell autonomously. These results show for the first time, in vivo, that Smn functions in motor axon development and suggest that these early developmental defects may lead to subsequent motoneuron loss.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200303168
PMCID: PMC1761110  PMID: 12952942
SMA; SMN; motoneurons; zebrafish; morpholino; AChR, acetylcholine receptor; CaP, caudal primary; MO, morpholino oligonucleotide; SMA, spinal muscular atrophy; SMN, survival motor neuron; VeLD, ventral longitudinal descending
14.  Dysregulation of ubiquitin homeostasis and β-catenin signaling promote spinal muscular atrophy 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(4):1821-1834.
The autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) results from low levels of survival motor neuron (SMN) protein; however, it is unclear how reduced SMN promotes SMA development. Here, we determined that ubiquitin-dependent pathways regulate neuromuscular pathology in SMA. Using mouse models of SMA, we observed widespread perturbations in ubiquitin homeostasis, including reduced levels of ubiquitin-like modifier activating enzyme 1 (UBA1). SMN physically interacted with UBA1 in neurons, and disruption of Uba1 mRNA splicing was observed in the spinal cords of SMA mice exhibiting disease symptoms. Pharmacological or genetic suppression of UBA1 was sufficient to recapitulate an SMA-like neuromuscular pathology in zebrafish, suggesting that UBA1 directly contributes to disease pathogenesis. Dysregulation of UBA1 and subsequent ubiquitination pathways led to β-catenin accumulation, and pharmacological inhibition of β-catenin robustly ameliorated neuromuscular pathology in zebrafish, Drosophila, and mouse models of SMA. UBA1-associated disruption of β-catenin was restricted to the neuromuscular system in SMA mice; therefore, pharmacological inhibition of β-catenin in these animals failed to prevent systemic pathology in peripheral tissues and organs, indicating fundamental molecular differences between neuromuscular and systemic SMA pathology. Our data indicate that SMA-associated reduction of UBA1 contributes to neuromuscular pathogenesis through disruption of ubiquitin homeostasis and subsequent β-catenin signaling, highlighting ubiquitin homeostasis and β-catenin as potential therapeutic targets for SMA.
doi:10.1172/JCI71318
PMCID: PMC3973095  PMID: 24590288
15.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062114
PMCID: PMC3632594  PMID: 23630626
16.  Development of a Single Vector System that Enhances Trans-Splicing of SMN2 Transcripts 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3468.
RNA modalities are developing as a powerful means to re-direct pathogenic pre-mRNA splicing events. Improving the efficiency of these molecules in vivo is critical as they move towards clinical applications. Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by loss of SMN1. A nearly identical copy gene called SMN2 produces low levels of functional protein due to alternative splicing. We previously reported a trans-splicing RNA (tsRNA) that re-directed SMN2 splicing. Now we show that reducing the competition between endogenous splices sites enhanced the efficiency of trans-splicing. A single vector system was developed that expressed the SMN tsRNA and a splice-site blocking antisense (ASO-tsRNA). The ASO-tsRNA vector significantly elevated SMN levels in primary SMA patient fibroblasts, within the central nervous system of SMA mice and increased SMN-dependent in vitro snRNP assembly. These results demonstrate that the ASO-tsRNA strategy provides insight into the trans-splicing mechanism and a means of significantly enhancing trans-splicing activity in vivo.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003468
PMCID: PMC2565107  PMID: 18941511
17.  The Smn-Independent Beneficial Effects of Trichostatin A on an Intermediate Mouse Model of Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e101225.
Spinal muscular atrophy is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disease characterized by the progressive loss of alpha motor neurons in the spinal cord. Trichostatin A (TSA) is a histone deacetylase inhibitor with beneficial effects in spinal muscular atrophy mouse models that carry the human SMN2 transgene. It is currently unclear whether TSA specifically targets the SMN2 gene or whether other genes respond to TSA and in turn provide neuroprotection in SMA mice. We have taken advantage of the Smn2B/- mouse model that does not harbor the human SMN2 transgene, to test the hypothesis that TSA has its beneficial effects through a non-SMN mediated pathway. TSA increased the median lifespan of Smn2B/- mice from twenty days to eight weeks. As well, there was a significant attenuation of weight loss and improved motor behavior. Pen test and righting reflex both showed significant improvement, and motor neurons in the spinal cord of Smn2B/- mice were protected from degeneration. Both the size and maturity of neuromuscular junctions were significantly improved in TSA treated Smn2B/- mice. Of interest, TSA treatment did not increase the levels of Smn protein in mouse embryonic fibroblasts or myoblasts obtained from the Smn2B/- mice. In addition, no change in the level of Smn transcripts or protein in the brain or spinal cord of TSA-treated SMA model mice was observed. Furthermore, TSA did not increase Smn protein levels in the hind limb muscle, heart, or liver of Smn2B/- mice. We therefore conclude that TSA likely exerts its effects independent of the endogenous mouse Smn gene. As such, identification of the pathways regulated by TSA in the Smn2B/- mice could lead to the development of novel therapeutics for treating SMA.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101225
PMCID: PMC4077776  PMID: 24984019
18.  Direct central nervous system delivery provides enhanced protection following vector mediated gene replacement in a severe model of Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
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). SMA, however, is not due to complete absence of SMN, rather a low level of functional full-length SMN is produced by a nearly identical copy gene called SMN2. Despite SMN’s ubiquitous expression, motor neurons are preferentially affected by low SMN levels. Recently gene replacement strategies have shown tremendous promise in animal models of SMA. In this study, we used self-complementary Adeno Associated Virus (scAAV) expressing full-length SMN cDNA to compare two different routes of viral delivery in a severe SMA mouse model. This was accomplished by injecting scAAV9-SMN vector intravenously (IV) or intracerebroventricularly (ICV) into SMA mice. Both routes of delivery resulted in a significant increase in lifespan and weight compared to untreated mice with a subpopulation of mice surviving more than 200 days. However, the ICV injected mice gained significantly more weight than their IV treated counterparts. Likewise, survival analysis showed that ICV treated mice displayed fewer early deaths than IV treated animals. Collectively, this report demonstrates that route of delivery is a crucial component of gene therapy treatment for SMA.
doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2011.11.121
PMCID: PMC3259227  PMID: 22172949
Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); scAAV; gene therapy; neurodegeneration; therapeutics
19.  Discovery, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Novel SMN Protein Modulators 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(18):6215-6233.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive disorder affecting the expression or function of survival motor neuron protein (SMN) due to the homozygous deletion or rare point mutations in the survival motor neuron gene 1 (SMN1). The human genome includes a second nearly identical gene called SMN2 that is retained in SMA. SMN2 transcripts undergo alternative splicing with reduced levels of SMN. Up-regulation of SMN2 expression, modification of its splicing, or inhibition of proteolysis of the truncated protein derived from SMN2 have been discussed as potential therapeutic strategies for SMA. In this manuscript, we detail the discovery of a series of arylpiperidines as novel modulators of SMN protein. Systematic hit-to-lead efforts significantly improved potency and efficacy of the series in the primary and orthogonal assays. Structure property relationships including microsomal stability, cell permeability and in vivo pharmacokinetics (PK) studies were also investigated. We anticipate that a lead candidate chosen from this series may serve as a useful probe for exploring the therapeutic benefits of SMN protein up-regulation in SMA animal models, and a starting point for clinical development.
doi:10.1021/jm200497t
PMCID: PMC3174349  PMID: 21819082
20.  The identification and characterization of the porcine (Sus scrofa) Survival Motor Neuron (SMN1) gene 
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive disorder that is characterized by the degeneration of the motor neurons of the spinal cord leading to muscle atrophy. SMA is a result of a loss-of-function of the gene SMN1. We have chosen to generate a transgenic swine model of SMA for the development and testing of therapeutics and evaluation of toxicology. To this end, we report the first cloning and identification of the swine SMN1 gene and show that there is significant sequence homology between swine and human SMN throughout the coding region. RT-PCR results demonstrated slight changes in SMN RNA expression during development and in different tissues. In contrast, protein expression profiles were dramatically different based upon different tissues and developmental stages, consistent with human SMN expression. Porcine SMN localization is consistent with human SMN, localizing diffusely within the cytoplasm and in punctate nuclear structures characteristic of nuclear gems. Importantly, transient transfection of porcine SMN1 in 3813 SMA type 1 fibroblasts demonstrate that porcine SMN1 can rescue the deficiency of SMN protein and gem formation in these cells. These studies provide the first characterization of the porcine SMN1 gene and SMN protein and suggest that a transgenic swine SMA model is feasible.
doi:10.1002/dvdy.21642
PMCID: PMC2556073  PMID: 18651653
SMN1 expression; Spinal Muscular Atrophy; swine; animal model
21.  A SMN missense mutation complements SMN2 restoring snRNPs and rescuing SMA mice 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(12):2215-2229.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease. Loss of the survival motor neuron (SMN1) gene, in the presence of the SMN2 gene causes SMA. SMN functions in snRNP assembly in all cell types, however, it is unclear how this function results in specifically motor neuron cell death. Lack of endogenous mouse SMN (Smn) in mice results in embryonic lethality. Introduction of two copies of human SMN2 results in a mouse with severe SMA, while one copy of SMN2 is insufficient to overcome embryonic lethality. We show that SMN(A111G), an allele capable of snRNP assembly, can rescue mice that lack Smn and contain either one or two copies of SMN2 (SMA mice). The correction of SMA in these animals was directly correlated with snRNP assembly activity in spinal cord, as was correction of snRNA levels. These data support snRNP assembly as being the critical function affected in SMA and suggests that the levels of snRNPs are critical to motor neurons. Furthermore, SMN(A111G) cannot rescue Smn−/− mice without SMN2 suggesting that both SMN(A111G) and SMN from SMN2 undergo intragenic complementation in vivo to function in heteromeric complexes that have greater function than either allele alone. The oligomer composed of limiting full-length SMN and SMN(A111G) has substantial snRNP assembly activity. Also, the SMN(A2G) and SMN(A111G) alleles in vivo did not complement each other leading to the possibility that these mutations could affect the same function.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddp157
PMCID: PMC2685758  PMID: 19329542
22.  Clinical and molecular cross-sectional study of a cohort of adult type III spinal muscular atrophy patients: clues from a biomarker study 
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder caused by mutations of the SMN1 gene. Based on severity, three forms of SMA are recognized (types I–III). All patients usually have 2–4 copies of a highly homologous gene (SMN2), which produces insufficient levels of functional survival motor neuron (SMN) protein due to the alternative splicing of exon 7. The availability of potential candidates to the treatment of SMA has raised a number of issues, including the availability of biomarkers. This study was aimed at evaluating whether the quantification of SMN2 products in peripheral blood is a suitable biomarker for SMA. Forty-five adult type III patients were evaluated by Manual Muscle Testing, North Star Ambulatory Assessment scale, 6-min walk test, myometry, forced vital capacity, and dual X-ray absorptiometry. Molecular assessments included SMN2 copy number, levels of full-length SMN2 (SMN2-fl) transcripts and those lacking exon 7 and SMN protein. Clinical outcome measures strongly correlated to each other. Lean body mass correlated inversely with years from diagnosis and with several aspects of motor performance. SMN2 copy number and SMN protein levels were not associated with motor performance or transcript levels. SMN2-fl levels correlated with motor performance in ambulant patients. Our results indicate that SMN2-fl levels correlate with motor performance only in patients preserving higher levels of motor function, whereas motor performance was strongly influenced by disease duration and lean body mass. If not taken into account, the confounding effect of disease duration may impair the identification of potential SMA biomarkers.
doi:10.1038/ejhg.2012.233
PMCID: PMC3658179  PMID: 23073312
spinal muscular atrophy; SMN; biomarker; outcome measure; real-time PCR
23.  The contribution of mouse models to understanding the pathogenesis of spinal muscular atrophy 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2011;4(4):457-467.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which is caused by inactivating mutations in the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, is characterized by loss of lower motor neurons in the spinal cord. The gene encoding SMN is very highly conserved in evolution, allowing the disease to be modeled in a range of species. The similarities in anatomy and physiology to the human neuromuscular system, coupled with the ease of genetic manipulation, make the mouse the most suitable model for exploring the basic pathogenesis of motor neuron loss and for testing potential treatments. Therapies that increase SMN levels, either through direct viral delivery or by enhancing full-length SMN protein expression from the SMN1 paralog, SMN2, are approaching the translational stage of development. It is therefore timely to consider the role of mouse models in addressing aspects of disease pathogenesis that are most relevant to SMA therapy. Here, we review evidence suggesting that the apparent selective vulnerability of motor neurons to SMN deficiency is relative rather than absolute, signifying that therapies will need to be delivered systemically. We also consider evidence from mouse models suggesting that SMN has its predominant action on the neuromuscular system in early postnatal life, during a discrete phase of development. Data from these experiments suggest that the timing of therapy to increase SMN levels might be crucial. The extent to which SMN is required for the maintenance of motor neurons in later life and whether augmenting its levels could treat degenerative motor neuron diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), requires further exploration.
doi:10.1242/dmm.007245
PMCID: PMC3124050  PMID: 21708901
24.  SMN transcript levels in leukocytes of SMA patients determined by absolute real-time PCR 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder caused by homozygous mutations of the SMN1 gene. Three forms of SMA are recognized (type I–III) on the basis of clinical severity. All patients have at least one or more (usually 2–4) copies of a highly homologous gene (SMN2), which produces insufficient levels of functional SMN protein, because of alternative splicing of exon 7. Recently, evidence has been provided that SMN2 expression can be enhanced by pharmacological treatment. However, no reliable biomarkers are available to test the molecular efficacy of the treatments. At present, the only potential biomarker is the dosage of SMN products in peripheral blood. However, the demonstration that SMN full-length (SMN-fl) transcript levels are reduced in leukocytes of patients compared with controls remains elusive (except for type I). We have developed a novel assay based on absolute real-time PCR, which allows the quantification of SMN1-fl/SMN2-fl transcripts. For the first time, we have shown that SMN-fl levels are reduced in leukocytes of type II–III patients compared with controls. We also found that transcript levels are related to clinical severity as in type III patients SMN2-fl levels are significantly higher compared with type II and directly correlated with functional ability in type II patients and with age of onset in type III patients. Moreover, in haploidentical siblings with discordant phenotype, the less severely affected individuals showed significantly higher transcript levels. Our study shows that SMN2-fl dosage in leukocytes can be considered a reliable biomarker and can provide the rationale for SMN dosage in clinical trials.
doi:10.1038/ejhg.2009.116
PMCID: PMC2987170  PMID: 19603064
spinal muscular atrophy; real-time PCR; biomarker; SMN; transcripts
25.  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.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddq343
PMCID: PMC2951869  PMID: 20705738

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