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1.  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
2.  Improvement of survival in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy: retrospective analysis of 835 patients 
Acta Myologica  2012;31(2):121-125.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is the most common muscle disease in children. Historically, DMD results in loss of ambulation between ages 7 and 13 years and death in the teens or 20s. In order to determine whether survival has improved over the decades and whether the impact of nocturnal ventilation combined with a better management of cardiac involvement has been able to modify the pattern of survival, we reviewed the notes of 835 DMD patients followed at the Naples Centre of Cardiomyology and Medical Genetics from 1961 to 2006. Patients were divided, by decade of birth, into 3 groups: 1) DMD born between 1961 and 1970; 2) DMD born between 1971 and 1980; 3) DMD born between 1981 and 1990; each group was in turn subdivided into 15 two-year classes, from 14 to 40 years of age. Age and causes of death, type of cardiac treatment and use of a mechanical ventilator were carefully analyzed.
The percentage of survivors in the different decades was statistically compared by chi-square test and Kaplan-Meier survival curves analyses. A significant decade on decade improvement in survival rate was observed at both the age of 20, where it passed from 23.3% of patients in group 1 to 54% of patients in group 2 and to 59,8% in patients in group 3 (p < 0.001) and at the age of 25 where the survival rate passed from 13.5% of patients in group 1 to 31.6% of patients in group 2 and to 49.2% in patients in group 3 (p < 0.001).
The causes of death were both cardiac and respiratory, with a prevalence of the respiratory ones till 1980s. The overall mean age for cardiac deaths was 19.6 years (range 13.4-27.5), with an increasing age in the last 15 years. The overall mean age for respiratory deaths was 17.7 years (range 11.6-27.5) in patients without a ventilator support while increased to 27.9 years (range 23-38.6) in patients who could benefit of mechanical ventilation.
This report documents that DMD should be now considered an adulthood disease as well, and as a consequence more public health interventions are needed to support these patients and their families as they pass from childhood into adult age.
PMCID: PMC3476854  PMID: 23097603
Duchenne; survival; cardiomyopathy
3.  Cardiac involvement in patients with Spinal Muscular Atrophies 
Acta Myologica  2011;30(3):175-178.
The spinal muscular atrophies (SMAs) include a group of disorders characterized by progressive weakness of the lower motor neurons. Several types of SMAs have been described based on age onset of clinical features: Acute infantile (SMA type I), chronic infantile (SMA type II), chronic juvenile (SMA type III), and adult onset (SMA type IV) forms. The incidence is about 1:6,000 live births with a carrier frequency of 1:40 for the severe form and 1:80 for the juvenile form. The mortality and/or morbidity rates of SMAs are inversely correlated with the age at onset. SMAs are believed to only affect skeletal muscles; however, new data on SMA mice models suggest they may also impact the heart.
Aim of the study was to retrospectively examine the cardiological records of 37 type molecularly confirmed II/III SMA patients, aged 6 to 65 years, in order to evaluate the onset and evolution of the cardiac involvement in these disorders. All patients had a standard ECG and a routine echocardiography. The parameters analysed were the following: Heart rate (HR), PQ interval, PQ segment, Cardiomyopathic Index (ratio QT/PQs), ventricular and supraventricular ectopic beats, pauses ≥ 2,5msec, ventricle diameters, wall and septum thickness, ejection fraction, fiber shortening.
The results showed that HR and the other ECG parameters were within the normal limits except for the Cardiomyopathic Index that was higher than the normal values (2,6-4,2) in 2 patients. Left ventricular systolic function was within the normal limits in all patients. A dilation of the left ventricle without systolic dysfunction was observed in only 2 patients, aged respectively 65 and 63 years; however they were hypertensive and/or affected by coronary artery disease. Data here reported contribute to reassure patients and their clinicians that type II/III SMAs do not present heart dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC3298107  PMID: 22616198
Spinal Muscular Atrophies; heart involvement; cardiomyopathy

Results 1-3 (3)