Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by loss of the survival motor neuron gene (SMN1) and retention of the SMN2 gene. The copy number of SMN2 affects the amount of SMN protein produced and the severity of the SMA phenotype. While loss of mouse Smn is embryonic lethal, two copies of SMN2 prevents this embryonic lethality resulting in a mouse with severe SMA that dies 5 days after birth. Here we show that expression of full-length SMN under the prion promoter (PrP) rescues severe SMA mice. The PrP results in high levels of SMN in neurons at embryonic day 15. Mice homozygous for PrP-SMN with two copies of SMN2 and lacking mouse Smn survive for an average of 210 days and lumbar motor neuron root counts in these mice were normal. Expression of SMN solely in skeletal muscle using the human skeletal actin (HSA) promoter resulted in no improvement of the SMA phenotype or extension of survival. One HSA line displaying nerve expression of SMN did affect the SMA phenotype with mice living for an average of 160 days. Thus, we conclude that expression of full-length SMN in neurons can correct the severe SMA phenotype in mice. Furthermore, a small increase of SMN in neurons has a substantial impact on survival of SMA mice while high SMN levels in mature skeletal muscle alone has no impact.
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.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease associated with low levels of the essential survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. Reduced levels of SMN is due to the loss of the SMN1 gene and inefficient splicing of the SMN2 gene caused by a C>T mutation in exon 7. Global analysis of the severe SMNΔ7 SMA mouse model revealed altered splicing and increased levels of the hypoxia-inducible transcript, Hif3alpha, at late stages of disease progression. Severe SMA patients also develop respiratory deficiency during disease progression. We sought to evaluate whether hypoxia was capable of altering SMN2 exon 7 splicing and whether increased oxygenation could modulate disease in a severe SMA mouse model. Hypoxia treatment in cell culture increased SMN2 exon 7 skipping and reduced SMN protein levels. Concordantly, the treatment of SMNΔ7 mice with hyperoxia treatment increased the inclusion of SMN2 exon 7 in skeletal muscles and resulted in improved motor function. Transfection splicing assays of SMN minigenes under hypoxia revealed that hypoxia-induced skipping is dependent on poor exon definition due to the SMN2 C>T mutation and suboptimal 5′ splice site. Hypoxia treatment in cell culture led to increased hnRNP A1 and Sam68 levels. Mutation of hnRNP A1-binding sites prevented hypoxia-induced skipping of SMN exon 7 and was found to bind both hnRNP A1 and Sam68. These results implicate hypoxic stress as a modulator of SMN2 exon 7 splicing in disease progression and a coordinated regulation by hnRNP A1 and Sam68 as modifiers of hypoxia-induced skipping of SMN exon 7.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a common neuromuscular disorder in humans. In fact, it is the most frequently inherited cause of infant mortality, being the result of mutations in the survival of motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene that reduce levels of SMN protein. Restoring levels of SMN protein in individuals with SMA is perceived to be a viable therapeutic option, but the efficacy of such a strategy once symptoms are apparent has not been determined. We have generated mice harboring an inducible Smn rescue allele and used them in a model of SMA to investigate the effects of turning on SMN expression at different time points during the course of the disease. Restoring SMN protein even after disease onset was sufficient to reverse neuromuscular pathology and effect robust rescue of the SMA phenotype. Importantly, our findings also indicated that there was a therapeutic window of opportunity from P4 through P8 defined by the extent of neuromuscular synapse pathology and the ability of motor neurons to respond to SMN induction, following which restoration of the protein to the organism failed to produce therapeutic benefit. Nevertheless, our results suggest that even in severe SMA, timely reinstatement of the SMN protein may halt the progression of the disease and serve as an effective postsymptomatic treatment.
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.
Survival Motor Neuron (SMN); Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA); scAAV; gene therapy; neurodegeneration; therapeutics
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of infant death results from loss of spinal motor neurons causing atrophy of skeletal muscle. SMA is caused by loss of the Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, however, an identically-coding gene called SMN2 is retained, but is alternatively spliced to produce ~90% truncated protein. Most SMA translational and preclinical drug development has relied on the use of SMA mice to determine changes in SMN protein levels. However, the SMA mouse models are relatively severe and analysis of SMN-inducing compounds is confounded by the early mortality of these animals. An antibody that could detect SMN protein on a Smn background could circumvent this limitation and allow unaffected, heterozygous animals to be examined. Here we describe the generation and characterization of a monoclonal anti-SMN antibody, 4F11, which specifically recognizes human SMN protein. 4F11 detects SMN (human) but not native Smn (mouse) protein in SMN2 transgenic mice and in SMA cell lines. We demonstrate the feasibility of using 4F11 to detect changes in SMN2-derived SMN protein in SMA patient fibroblasts and in healthy SMN2 transgenic mice. This antibody is, therefore, an excellent tool for examining SMN2-inducing therapeutics in patient cells as well as in transgenic mice.
spinal muscular atrophy; transgenic mouse; monoclonal antibody; biomarker; motor neuron disease; gem; survival motor neuron
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is 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.
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 a leading genetic cause of infant mortality. A neurodegenerative disease, it is caused by loss of SMN1, although low, but essential, levels of SMN protein are produced by the nearly identical gene SMN2. While no effective treatment or therapy currently exists, a new wave of therapeutics has rapidly progressed from cell-based and preclinical animal models to the point where clinical trials have initiated for SMA-specific compounds. There are several reasons why SMA has moved relatively rapidly towards novel therapeutics, including: SMA is monogenic; the molecular understanding of SMN gene regulation has been building for nearly 20 years; and all SMA patients retain one or more copies of SMN2 that produces low levels of full-length, fully functional SMN protein. This review primarily focuses upon the biology behind the disease and examines SMN1- and SMN2-targeted therapeutics.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disorder caused by reduced levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. Here we show that the proteasome inhibitor, bortezomib, increases SMN in cultured cells and in peripheral tissues of SMA model mice. Bortezomib-treated animals had improved motor function, which was associated with reduced spinal cord and muscle pathology and improved neuromuscular junction size, but no change in survival. Combining bortezomib with the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A (TSA) resulted in a synergistic increase in SMN protein levels in mouse tissue and extended survival of SMA mice more than TSA alone. Our results demonstrate that a combined regimen of drugs that decrease SMN protein degradation and increase SMN gene transcription synergistically increases SMN levels and improves the lifespan of SMA model mice. Moreover, this study indicates that while increasing SMN levels in the central nervous system may help extend survival, peripheral tissues can also be targeted to improve the SMA disease phenotype.
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.
The loss of motor neurons (MN) is a hallmark of the neuromuscular disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA); however it is unclear whether this phenotype autonomously originates within the MN. To address this question, we developed an inducible mouse model of severe SMA that has reduced survival and motor function, motor unit pathology and hyperexcitable MNs. Using an Hb9-Cre allele, we increased Smn levels autonomously within MNs, and demonstrate that MN-rescue significantly improves all phenotypes and pathologies commonly described in SMA mice. MN-rescue also corrects the hyperexcitability in SMA motor neurons, and prevents sensory-motor synaptic stripping. Survival in MN-rescued SMA mice is extended by only 5 days, due in part to failed autonomic innervation of the heart. Collectively, this work demonstrates that the SMA phenotype autonomously originates in MNs and that sensory-motor synapse loss is a consequence, not a cause, of MN dysfunction.
The loss of motor neurons (MNs) is a hallmark of the neuromuscular disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA); however, it is unclear whether this phenotype autonomously originates within the MN. To address this question, we developed an inducible mouse model of severe SMA that has perinatal lethality, decreased motor function, motor unit pathology, and hyperexcitable MNs. Using an Hb9-Cre allele, we increased Smn levels autonomously within MNs and demonstrate that MN rescue significantly improves all phenotypes and pathologies commonly described in SMA mice. MN rescue also corrects hyperexcitability in SMA motor neurons and prevents sensory-motor synaptic stripping. Survival in MN-rescued SMA mice is extended by only 5 d, due in part to failed autonomic innervation of the heart. Collectively, this work demonstrates that the SMA phenotype autonomously originates in MNs and that sensory-motor synapse loss is a consequence, not a cause, of MN dysfunction.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder, leading to progressive muscle weakness, atrophy, and sometimes premature death. SMA is caused by mutation or deletion of the survival motor neuron-1 (SMN1) gene. An effective treatment does not presently exist. Since the severity of the SMA phenotype is inversely correlated with expression levels of SMN, the SMN-encoded protein, SMN is the most important therapeutic target for development of an effective treatment for SMA. In recent years, numerous SMN independent targets and therapeutic strategies have been demonstrated to have potential roles in SMA treatment. For example, some neurotrophic, antiapoptotic, and myotrophic factors are able to promote survival of motor neurons or improve muscle strength shown in SMA mouse models or clinical trials. Plastin-3, cpg15, and a Rho-kinase inhibitor regulate axonal dynamics and might reduce the influences of SMN depletion in disarrangement of neuromuscular junction. Stem cell transplantation in SMA model mice resulted in improvement of motor behaviors and extension of survival, likely from trophic support. Although most therapies are still under investigation, these nonclassical treatments might provide an adjunctive method for future SMA therapy.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by loss of the survival motor neuron 1 gene (SMN1) and retention of the SMN2 gene, resulting in reduced SMN. SMA mice can be rescued with high expression of SMN in neurons, but when is this high expression required? We have developed a SMA mouse with inducible expression of SMN to address the temporal requirement for high SMN expression. Both embryonic and early postnatal induction of SMN resulted in a dramatic increase in survival with some mice living greater than 200 days. The mice had no marked motor deficits and neuromuscular junction (NMJ) function was near normal thus it appears that induction of SMN in postnatal SMA mice rescues motor function. Early postnatal SMN induction, followed by a 1-month removal of induction at 28 days of age, resulted in no morphological or electrophysiological abnormalities at the NMJ and no overt motor phenotype. Upon removal of SMN induction, five mice survived for just over 1 month and two female mice have survived past 8 months of age. We suggest that there is a postnatal period of time when high SMN levels are required. Furthermore, two copies of SMN2 provide the minimal amount of SMN necessary to maintain survival during adulthood. Finally, in the course of SMA, early induction of SMN is most efficacious.
Low levels of the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) protein produce Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a severe monogenetic disease in infants characterized by muscle weakness and impaired synaptic transmission. We report here severe structural and functional alterations in the organization of the organelles and the cytoskeleton of motor nerve terminals in a mouse model of SMA. The decrease in SMN levels resulted in the clustering of synaptic vesicles (SVs) and Active Zones (AZs), reduction in the size of the readily releasable pool (RRP), and the recycling pool (RP) of synaptic vesicles, a decrease in active mitochondria and limiting of neurofilament and microtubule maturation. We propose that SMN is essential for the normal postnatal maturation of motor nerve terminals and that SMN deficiency disrupts the presynaptic organization leading to neurodegeneration.
A number of mouse models for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) have been genetically engineered to recapitulate the severity of human SMA by using a targeted null mutation at the mouse Smn1 locus coupled with the transgenic addition of varying copy numbers of human SMN2 genes. Although this approach has been useful in modeling severe SMA and very mild SMA, a mouse model of the intermediate form of the disease would provide an additional research tool amenable for drug discovery. In addition, many of the previously engineered SMA strains are multi-allelic by design, containing a combination of transgenes and targeted mutations in the homozygous state, making further genetic manipulation difficult. A new genetic engineering approach was developed whereby variable numbers of SMN2 sequences were incorporated directly into the murine Smn1 locus. Using combinations of these alleles, we generated an allelic series of SMA mouse strains harboring no, one, two, three, four, five, six or eight copies of SMN2. We report here the characterization of SMA mutants in this series that displayed a range in disease severity from embryonic lethal to viable with mild neuromuscular deficits.
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a leading genetic cause of infant death. Patients with SMA lose α-motor neurons in the ventral horn of the spinal cord which leads to skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy. SMA is the result of reduction in Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) expression. Transgenic mouse models of SMA have been generated and are extremely useful in understanding the mechanisms of motor neuron degeneration in SMA and in developing new therapeutic candidates for SMA patients. Several research groups have reported varying average lifespans of SMNΔ7 SMA mice (SMN2+/+;SMNΔ7+/+;mSmn−/−), the most commonly used mouse model for preclinical therapeutic candidate testing. One environmental factor that varied between research groups was maternal diet. In this study, we compared the effects of two different commercially available rodent chows (PicoLab20 Mouse diet and Harlan-Teklad 22/5 diet) on the survival and motor phenotype of the SMNΔ7 mouse model of SMA. Specifically, the PicoLab20 diet significantly extends the average lifespan of the SMNΔ7 SMA mice by approximately 25% and improved the motor phenotype as compared to the Harlan diet. These findings indicate that maternal diet alone can have considerable impact on the SMA phenotype.
spinal muscular atrophy; motor neuron disease; diet; survival motor neuron; plastin-3; motor behavior
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is recessive motor neuron disease that affects motor neurons in the anterior horn of the spinal cord. SMA results from the reduction of SMN (survival motor neuron) protein. Even though SMN is ubiquitously expressed, motor neurons are more sensitive to the reduction in SMN than other cell types. We have previously generated mouse models of SMA with varying degrees of clinical severity. So as to more clearly understand the pathogenesis of motor neuron degeneration in SMA, we have characterized the phenotype of the SMNΔ7 SMA mouse which normally lives for 13.6 ± 0.7 days. These mice are smaller than their non-SMA littermates and begin to lose body mass at 10.4 ± 0.4 days. SMNΔ7 SMA mice exhibit impaired responses to surface righting, negative geotaxis and cliff aversion but not to tactile stimulation. Spontaneous motor activity and grip strength are also significantly impaired in SMNΔ7 SMA mice. In summary, we have demonstrated an impairment of neonatal motor responses in SMNΔ7 SMA mice. This phenotype characterization could be used to assess the effectiveness of potential therapies for SMA.
spinal muscular atrophy; motor neuron disease; behavior; development; sample size estimation; Fox battery; natural history
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infantile death. It is caused by the loss of functional Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1). There is a nearly identical copy gene, SMN2, but it is unable to rescue from disease due to an alternative splicing event that excises a necessary exon (exon 7) from the majority of SMN2-derived transcripts. While SMNΔ7 protein has severely reduced functionality, the exon 7 sequences may not be specifically required for all activities. Therefore, aminoglycoside antibiotics previously shown to suppress stop codon recognition and promote translation read-through have been examined to increase the length of the SMNΔ7 C-terminus.
Here we demonstrate that subcutaneous-administration of a read-through inducing compound (TC007) to an intermediate SMA model (Smn-/-; SMN2+/+; SMNΔ7) had beneficial effects on muscle fiber size and gross motor function.
Delivery of the read-through inducing compound TC007 reduces the disease-associated phenotype in SMA mice, however, does not significantly extend survival.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a common pediatric neuromuscular disorder caused by insufficient levels of the survival of motor neuron (SMN) protein. Studies involving SMA patients and animal models expressing the human SMN2 gene have yielded relatively little information about the earliest cellular consequences of reduced SMN protein. In this study, we have used severe- and mild-SMN2 expressing mouse models of SMA as well as material from human patients to understand the initial stages of neurodegeneration in the human disease. We show that the earliest structural defects appear distally and involve the neuromuscular synapse. Insufficient SMN protein arrests the post-natal development of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), impairing the maturation of acetylcholine receptor (AChR) clusters into ‘pretzels’. Pre-synaptic defects include poor terminal arborization and intermediate filament aggregates which may serve as a useful biomarker of the disease. These defects are reflected in functional deficits at the NMJ characterized by intermittent neurotransmission failures. We suggest that SMA might best be described as a NMJ synaptopathy and that one promising means of treating it could involve maintaining function at the NMJ.
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.
Genetic defects leading to the reduction of the survival motor neuron protein (SMN) are a causal factor for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). While there are a number of therapies under evaluation as potential treatments for SMA, there is a critical lack of a biomarker method for assessing efficacy of therapeutic interventions, particularly those targeting upregulation of SMN protein levels. Towards this end we have engaged in developing an immunoassay capable of accurately measuring SMN protein levels in blood, specifically in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), as a tool for validating SMN protein as a biomarker in SMA.
A sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was developed and validated for measuring SMN protein in human PBMCs and other cell lysates. Protocols for detection and extraction of SMN from transgenic SMA mouse tissues were also developed.
The assay sensitivity for human SMN is 50 pg/mL. Initial analysis reveals that PBMCs yield enough SMN to analyze from blood volumes of less than 1 mL, and SMA Type I patients' PBMCs show ∼90% reduction of SMN protein compared to normal adults. The ELISA can reliably quantify SMN protein in human and mouse PBMCs and muscle, as well as brain, and spinal cord from a mouse model of severe SMA.
This SMN ELISA assay enables the reliable, quantitative and rapid measurement of SMN in healthy human and SMA patient PBMCs, muscle and fibroblasts. SMN was also detected in several tissues in a mouse model of SMA, as well as in wildtype mouse tissues. This SMN ELISA has general translational applicability to both preclinical and clinical research efforts.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a motor neuron disease caused by reduced levels of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. SMN together with Gemins2-8 and unrip proteins form a macromolecular complex that functions in the assembly of small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) of both the major and the minor splicing pathways. It is not known whether the levels of spliceosomal snRNPs are decreased in SMA. Here we analyzed the consequence of SMN deficiency on snRNP metabolism in the spinal cord of mouse models of SMA with differing phenotypic severities. We demonstrate that the expression of a subset of Gemin proteins and snRNP assembly activity are dramatically reduced in the spinal cord of severe SMA mice. Comparative analysis of different tissues highlights a similar decrease in SMN levels and a strong impairment of snRNP assembly in tissues of severe SMA mice, although the defect appears smaller in kidney than in neural tissue. We further show that the extent of reduction in both Gemin proteins expression and snRNP assembly activity in the spinal cord of SMA mice correlates with disease severity. Remarkably, defective SMN complex function in snRNP assembly causes a significant decrease in the levels of a subset of snRNPs and preferentially affects the accumulation of U11 snRNP—a component of the minor spliceosome—in tissues of severe SMA mice. Thus, impairment of a ubiquitous function of SMN changes the snRNP profile of SMA tissues by unevenly altering the normal proportion of endogenous snRNPs. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that SMN deficiency affects the splicing machinery and in particular the minor splicing pathway of a rare class of introns in SMA.
The selective vulnerability of motor neurons to paucity of Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) protein is a defining feature of human spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and indicative of a unique requirement for adequate levels of the protein in these cells. However, the relative contribution of SMN-depleted motor neurons to the disease process is uncertain and it is possible that their characteristic loss and the overall SMA phenotype is a consequence of low protein in multiple cell types including neighboring spinal neurons and non-neuronal tissue. To explore the tissue-specific requirements for SMN and, especially, the salutary effects of restoring normal levels of the protein to neuronal tissue of affected individuals, we have selectively expressed the protein in neurons of mice that model severe SMA. Expressing SMN pan-neuronally in mutant mice mitigated specific aspects of the disease phenotype. Motor performance of the mice improved and the loss of spinal motor neurons that characterizes the disease was arrested. Proprioceptive synapses on the motor neurons were restored and defects of the neuromuscular junctions mitigated. The improvements at the cellular level were reflected in a four-fold increase in survival. Nevertheless, mutants expressing neuronal SMN did not live beyond three weeks of birth, a relatively poor outcome compared to the effects of ubiquitously restoring SMN. This suggests that although neurons and, in particular, spinal motor neurons constitute critical cellular sites of action of the SMN protein, a truly effective treatment of severe SMA will require restoring the protein to multiple cell types including non-neuronal tissue.