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1.  Novel mutations expand the clinical spectrum of DYNC1H1-associated spinal muscular atrophy 
Neurology  2015;84(7):668-679.
To expand the clinical phenotype of autosomal dominant congenital spinal muscular atrophy with lower extremity predominance (SMA-LED) due to mutations in the dynein, cytoplasmic 1, heavy chain 1 (DYNC1H1) gene.
Patients with a phenotype suggestive of a motor, non–length-dependent neuronopathy predominantly affecting the lower limbs were identified at participating neuromuscular centers and referred for targeted sequencing of DYNC1H1.
We report a cohort of 30 cases of SMA-LED from 16 families, carrying mutations in the tail and motor domains of DYNC1H1, including 10 novel mutations. These patients are characterized by congenital or childhood-onset lower limb wasting and weakness frequently associated with cognitive impairment. The clinical severity is variable, ranging from generalized arthrogryposis and inability to ambulate to exclusive and mild lower limb weakness. In many individuals with cognitive impairment (9/30 had cognitive impairment) who underwent brain MRI, there was an underlying structural malformation resulting in polymicrogyric appearance. The lower limb muscle MRI shows a distinctive pattern suggestive of denervation characterized by sparing and relative hypertrophy of the adductor longus and semitendinosus muscles at the thigh level, and diffuse involvement with relative sparing of the anterior-medial muscles at the calf level. Proximal muscle histopathology did not always show classic neurogenic features.
Our report expands the clinical spectrum of DYNC1H1-related SMA-LED to include generalized arthrogryposis. In addition, we report that the neurogenic peripheral pathology and the CNS neuronal migration defects are often associated, reinforcing the importance of DYNC1H1 in both central and peripheral neuronal functions.
PMCID: PMC4336105  PMID: 25609763
2.  Mutation Update and Genotype–Phenotype Correlations of Novel and Previously Described Mutations in TPM2 and TPM3 Causing Congenital Myopathies 
Human mutation  2014;35(7):779-790.
Mutations affecting skeletal muscle isoforms of the tropomyosin genes may cause nemaline myopathy, cap myopathy, core-rod myopathy, congenital fiber-type disproportion, distal arthrogryposes, and Escobar syndrome. We correlate the clinical picture of these diseases with novel (19) and previously reported (31) mutations of the TPM2 and TPM3 genes. Included are altogether 93 families: 53 with TPM2 mutations and 40 with TPM3 mutations. Thirty distinct pathogenic variants of TPM2 and 20 of TPM3 have been published or listed in the Leiden Open Variant Database ( Most are heterozygous changes associated with autosomal-dominant disease. Patients with TPM2 mutations tended to present with milder symptoms than those with TPM3 mutations, DA being present only in the TPM2 group. Previous studies have shown that five of the mutations in TPM2 and one in TPM3 cause increased Ca2+ sensitivity resulting in a hypercontractile molecular phenotype. Patients with hypercontractile phenotype more often had contractures of the limb joints (18/19) and jaw (6/19) than those with nonhypercontractile ones (2/22 and 1/22), whereas patients with the non-hypercontractile molecular phenotype more often (19/22) had axial contractures than the hypercontractile group (7/19). Our in silico predictions show that most mutations affect tropomyosin–actin association or tropomyosin head-to-tail binding.
PMCID: PMC4200603  PMID: 24692096
congenital myopathy; genotype–phenotype correlation; TPM2; TPM3; actin; hypercontractile phenotype
Muscle & nerve  2013;49(3):422-430.
Trial design for SMA depends on meaningful rating scales to assess outcomes. In this study Rasch methodology was applied to 9 motor scales in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
Data from all 3 SMA types were provided by research groups for 9 commonly used scales. Rasch methodology assessed the ordering of response option thresholds, tests of fit, spread of item locations, residual correlations, and person separation index.
Each scale had good reliability. However, several issues impacting scale validity were identified, including the extent that items defined clinically meaningful constructs and how well each scale measured performance across the SMA spectrum.
The sensitivity and potential utility of each SMA scale as outcome measures for trials could be improved by establishing clear definitions of what is measured, reconsidering items that misfit and items whose response categories have reversed thresholds, and adding new items at the extremes of scale ranges.
PMCID: PMC4376296  PMID: 23836324
clinical trials; motor neuron disease; outcome measures; Rasch analysis; spinal muscular atrophy
4.  Natural history of pulmonary function in collagen VI-related myopathies 
Brain  2013;136(12):3625-3633.
The spectrum of clinical phenotypes associated with a deficiency or dysfunction of collagen VI in the extracellular matrix of muscle are collectively termed ‘collagen VI-related myopathies’ and include Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, Bethlem myopathy and intermediate phenotypes. To further define the clinical course of these variants, we studied the natural history of pulmonary function in correlation to motor abilities in the collagen VI-related myopathies by analysing longitudinal forced vital capacity data in a large international cohort. Retrospective chart reviews of genetically and/or pathologically confirmed collagen VI-related myopathy patients were performed at 10 neuromuscular centres: USA (n = 2), UK (n = 2), Australia (n = 2), Italy (n = 2), France (n = 1) and Belgium (n = 1). A total of 486 forced vital capacity measurements obtained in 145 patients were available for analysis. Patients at the severe end of the clinical spectrum, conforming to the original description of Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy were easily identified by severe muscle weakness either preventing ambulation or resulting in an early loss of ambulation, and demonstrated a cumulative decline in forced vital capacity of 2.6% per year (P < 0.0001). Patients with better functional abilities, in whom walking with/without assistance was achieved, were initially combined, containing both intermediate and Bethlem myopathy phenotypes in one group. However, one subset of patients demonstrated a continuous decline in pulmonary function whereas the other had stable pulmonary function. None of the patients with declining pulmonary function attained the ability to hop or run; these patients were categorized as intermediate collagen VI-related myopathy and the remaining patients as Bethlem myopathy. Intermediate patients had a cumulative decline in forced vital capacity of 2.3% per year (P < 0.0001) whereas the relationship between age and forced vital capacity in patients with Bethlem myopathy was not significant (P = 0.1432). Nocturnal non-invasive ventilation was initiated in patients with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy by 11.3 years (±4.0) and in patients with intermediate collagen VI-related myopathy by 20.7 years (±1.5). The relationship between maximal motor ability and forced vital capacity was highly significant (P < 0.0001). This study demonstrates that pulmonary function profiles can be used in combination with motor function profiles to stratify collagen VI-related myopathy patients phenotypically. These findings improve our knowledge of the natural history of the collagen VI-related myopathies, enabling proactive optimization of care and preparing this patient population for clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3859224  PMID: 24271325
collagen VI-related myopathies; natural history; forced vital capacity; optimization of care; outcome measure
5.  Ataluren treatment of patients with nonsense mutation dystrophinopathy 
Muscle & Nerve  2014;50(4):477-487.
Introduction: Dystrophinopathy is a rare, severe muscle disorder, and nonsense mutations are found in 13% of cases. Ataluren was developed to enable ribosomal readthrough of premature stop codons in nonsense mutation (nm) genetic disorders. Methods: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study; males ≥5 years with nm-dystrophinopathy received study drug orally 3 times daily, ataluren 10, 10, 20 mg/kg (N = 57); ataluren 20, 20, 40 mg/kg (N = 60); or placebo (N = 57) for 48 weeks. The primary endpoint was change in 6-Minute Walk Distance (6MWD) at Week 48. Results: Ataluren was generally well tolerated. The primary endpoint favored ataluren 10, 10, 20 mg/kg versus placebo; the week 48 6MWD Δ = 31.3 meters, post hoc P = 0.056. Secondary endpoints (timed function tests) showed meaningful differences between ataluren 10, 10, 20 mg/kg, and placebo. Conclusions: As the first investigational new drug targeting the underlying cause of nm-dystrophinopathy, ataluren offers promise as a treatment for this orphan genetic disorder with high unmet medical need. Muscle Nerve 50: 477–487, 2014
PMCID: PMC4241581  PMID: 25042182
Duchenne muscular dystrophy; genetic; pediatric; nonsense mutation; orphan
6.  The 6 Minute Walk Test and Performance of Upper Limb in Ambulant Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Boys 
PLoS Currents  2014;
The Performance of Upper Limb (PUL) test was specifically developed for the assessment of upper limbs in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The first published data have shown that early signs of involvement can also be found in ambulant DMD boys. The aim of this longitudinal Italian multicentric study was to evaluate the correlation between the 6 Minute Walk Test (6MWT) and the PUL in ambulant DMD boys. Both 6MWT and PUL were administered to 164 ambulant DMD boys of age between 5.0 and 16.17 years (mean 8.82). The 6 minute walk distance (6MWD) ranged between 118 and 557 (mean: 376.38, SD: 90.59). The PUL total scores ranged between 52 and 74 (mean: 70.74, SD: 4.66). The correlation between the two measures was 0.499. The scores on the PUL largely reflect the overall impairment observed on the 6MWT but the correlation was not linear. The use of the PUL appeared to be less relevant in the very strong patients with 6MWD above 400 meters, who, with few exceptions had near full scores. In patients with lower 6MWD the severity of upper limb involvement was more variable and could not always be predicted by the 6MWD value or by the use of steroids. Our results confirm that upper limb involvement can already be found in DMD boys even in the ambulant phase.
PMCID: PMC4208936  PMID: 25642376
7.  Long Term Natural History Data in Ambulant Boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy: 36-Month Changes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e108205.
The 6 minute walk test has been recently chosen as the primary outcome measure in international multicenter clinical trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy ambulant patients. The aim of the study was to assess the spectrum of changes at 3 years in the individual measures, their correlation with steroid treatment, age and 6 minute walk test values at baseline. Ninety-six patients from 11 centers were assessed at baseline and 12, 24 and 36 months after baseline using the 6 minute walk test and the North Star Ambulatory Assessment. Three boys (3%) lost the ability to perform the 6 minute walk test within 12 months, another 13 between 12 and 24 months (14%) and 11 between 24 and 36 months (12%). The 6 minute walk test showed an average overall decline of −15.8 (SD 77.3) m at 12 months, of −58.9 (SD 125.7) m at 24 months and −104.22 (SD 146.2) m at 36 months. The changes were significantly different in the two baseline age groups and according to the baseline 6 minute walk test values (below and above 350 m) (p<0.001). The changes were also significantly different according to steroid treatment (p = 0.01). Similar findings were found for the North Star Ambulatory Assessment. These are the first 36 month longitudinal data using the 6 minute walk test and North Star Ambulatory Assessment in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Our findings will help not only to have a better idea of the progression of the disorder but also provide reference data that can be used to compare with the results of the long term extension studies that are becoming available.
PMCID: PMC4182715  PMID: 25271887
8.  Upper Girdle Imaging in Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e100292.
In Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), the upper girdle is early involved and often difficult to assess only relying on physical examination. Our aim was to evaluate the pattern and degree of involvement of upper girdle muscles in FSHD compared with other muscle diseases with scapular girdle impairment.
We propose an MRI protocol evaluating neck and upper girdle muscles. One hundred-eight consecutive symptomatic FSHD patients and 45 patients affected by muscular dystrophies and myopathies with prominent upper girdle involvement underwent this protocol. Acquired scans were retrospectively analyzed.
The trapezius (100% of the patients) and serratus anterior (85% of the patients) were the most and earliest affected muscles in FSHD, followed by the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major, whilst spinati and subscapularis (involved in less than 4% of the patients) were consistently spared even in late disease stages. Asymmetry and hyperintensities on short-tau inversion recovery (STIR) sequences were common features, and STIR hyperintensities could also be found in muscles not showing signs of fatty replacement. The overall involvement appears to be disease-specific in FSHD as it significantly differed from that encountered in the other myopathies.
The detailed knowledge of single muscle involvement provides useful information for correctly evaluating patients' motor function and to set a baseline for natural history studies. Upper girdle imaging can also be used as an additional tool helpful in supporting the diagnosis of FSHD in unclear situations, and may contribute with hints on the currently largely unknown molecular pathogenesis of this disease.
PMCID: PMC4059711  PMID: 24932477
9.  6 Minute Walk Test in Duchenne MD Patients with Different Mutations: 12 Month Changes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e83400.
In the last few years some of the therapeutical approaches for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are specifically targeting distinct groups of mutations, such as deletions eligible for skipping of individual exons. The aim of this observational study was to establish whether patients with distinct groups of mutations have different profiles of changes on the 6 minute walk test (6MWT) over a 12 month period.
The 6MWT was performed in 191 ambulant DMD boys at baseline and 12 months later. The results were analysed using a test for heterogeneity in order to establish possible differences among different types of mutations (deletions, duplications, point mutations) and among subgroups of deletions eligible to skip individual exons.
At baseline the 6MWD ranged between 180 and 560,80 metres (mean 378,06, SD 74,13). The 12 month changes ranged between −325 and 175 (mean −10.8 meters, SD 69.2). Although boys with duplications had better results than those with the other types of mutations, the difference was not significant.
Similarly, boys eligible for skipping of the exon 44 had better baseline results and less drastic changes than those eligible for skipping exon 45 or 53, but the difference was not significant.
even if there are some differences among subgroups, the mean 12 month changes in each subgroup were all within a narrow Range: from the mean of the whole DMD cohort. This information will be of help at the time of designing clinical trials with small numbers of eligible patients.
PMCID: PMC3885414  PMID: 24421885
11.  Glyburide ameliorates motor coordination and glucose homeostasis in a child with diabetes associated with the KCNJ11/S225T, del226-232 mutation 
Pediatric diabetes  2012;13(8):656-660.
Gain-of-function mutations of KCNJ11 can cause permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus, but only rarely after 6 months of age. Specific uncommon mutations KCNJ11 give rise to a syndrome defined as developmental delay, epilepsy, and neonatal diabetes (DEND), or – more frequently – to a milder sub-type lacking epilepsy, denoted as intermediate-DEND (iDEND). Our aim was to consider a possible monogenic etiology in a 12-yr-old boy with early onset diabetes and mild neurological features. We studied a subject diagnosed with diabetes at 21 months of age, and negative to type 1 diabetes autoantibodies testing. He had learning difficulties during primary school, and a single episode of seizures at the age of 10 yr. We performed direct DNA sequencing of the KCNJ11 gene with subsequent functional study of mutated channels in COSm6 cells. The patient's clinical response to oral glyburide (Glyb) was assessed. Motor coordination was evaluated before and after 6 and 12 months of Glyb therapy. Sequencing of the KCNJ11 gene detected the novel, spontaneous mutation S225T, combined with deletion of amino acids 226–232. In vitro studies revealed that the mutation results in a KATP channel with reduced sensitivity to the inhibitory action of ATP. Glyb improved diabetes control (hemoglobin A1c on insulin: 52 mmol/mol/6.9%; on Glyb: 36 mmol/mol/5.4%) and also performance on motor coordination tests that were impaired before the switch of therapy. We conclude that KCNJ11/S225T, del226-232 mutation caused a mild iDEND form in our patient. KCNJ11 should be considered as the etiology of diabetes even beyond the neonatal period if present in combination with negative autoantibody testing and even mild neurological symptoms.
PMCID: PMC3747824  PMID: 22694282
developmental delay; glyburide; infancy onset diabetes; KCNJ11; mutation
12.  Importance of SPP1 genotype as a covariate in clinical trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
Neurology  2012;79(2):159-162.
To test the effect of the single nucleotide polymorphism −66 T>G (rs28357094) in the osteopontin gene (SPP1) on functional measures over 12 months in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
This study was conducted on a cohort of ambulatory patients with DMD from a network of Italian neuromuscular centers, evaluated longitudinally with the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) and the 6-Minute Walk Test (6MWT) at study entry and after 12 months. Genotype at rs28357094 was determined after completion of the clinical evaluations. Patients were stratified in 2 groups according to a dominant model (TT homozygotes vs TG heterozygotes and GG homozygotes) and clinical data were retrospectively compared between groups.
Eighty patients were selected (age 4.1–19.3 years; mean 8.3 ± 2.7 SD). There were no differences in age or steroid treatment between the 2 subgroups. Paired t test showed a significant difference in both NSAA (p = 0.013) and 6MWT (p = 0.03) between baseline and follow-up after 12 months in patients with DMD carrying the G allele. The difference was not significant in the T subgroup. The analysis of covariance using age and baseline values as covariate and SPP1 genotype as fixed effect showed that these parameters are significantly correlated with the 12-month values.
These data provide evidence of the role of SPP1 genotype as a disease modifier in DMD and support its relevance in the selection of homogeneous groups of patients for future clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3390537  PMID: 22744661
13.  Dandy-Walker malformation and Wisconsin syndrome: novel cases add further insight into the genotype-phenotype correlations of 3q23q25 deletions 
The Dandy-Walker malformation (DWM) is one of the commonest congenital cerebellar defects, and can be associated with multiple congenital anomalies and chromosomal syndromes. The occurrence of overlapping 3q deletions including the ZIC1 and ZIC4 genes in few patients, along with data from mouse models, have implicated both genes in the pathogenesis of DWM.
Methods and results
Using a SNP-array approach, we recently identified three novel patients carrying heterozygous 3q deletions encompassing ZIC1 and ZIC4. Magnetic resonance imaging showed that only two had a typical DWM, while the third did not present any defect of the DWM spectrum. SNP-array analysis in further eleven children diagnosed with DWM failed to identify deletions of ZIC1-ZIC4. The clinical phenotype of the three 3q deleted patients included multiple congenital anomalies and peculiar facial appearance, related to the localization and extension of each deletion. In particular, phenotypes resulted from the variable combination of three recognizable patterns: DWM (with incomplete penetrance); blepharophimosis, ptosis, and epicanthus inversus syndrome; and Wisconsin syndrome (WS), recently mapped to 3q.
Our data indicate that the 3q deletion is a rare defect associated with DWM, and suggest that the hemizygosity of ZIC1-ZIC4 genes is neither necessary nor sufficient per se to cause this condition. Furthermore, based on a detailed comparison of clinical features and molecular data from 3q deleted patients, we propose clinical diagnostic criteria and refine the critical region for WS.
PMCID: PMC3667004  PMID: 23679990
Dandy-Walker malformation; Wisconsin syndrome; 3q deletion; ZIC1-ZIC4 genes
14.  SMA-EUROPE workshop report: opportunities and challenges in developing clinical trials for spinal muscular atrophy in Europe 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the most common lethal recessive disease in childhood, and there is currently no effective treatment to halt disease progression. The translation of scientific advances into effective therapies is hampered by major roadblocks in clinical trials, including the complex regulatory environment in Europe, variations in standards of care, patient ascertainment and enrolment, a narrow therapeutic window and a lack of biomarkers of efficacy. In this context, SMA-Europe organized its first international workshop in July 2012 in Rome, gathering 34 scientists, clinicians and representatives of patient organizations to establish recommendations for improving clinical trials for SMAa.
PMCID: PMC3627630  PMID: 23514578
Spinal muscular atrophy; Clinical trials; Preclinical drug selection; Phase III trial planning; Patient registries; Neonatal trials; Newborn screening; Standards of care; European regulations; Efficacy biomarkers
15.  Centronuclear myopathy related to dynamin 2 mutations: Clinical, morphological, muscle imaging and genetic features of an Italian cohort 
Neuromuscular Disorders  2013;23(3):229-238.
Mutations in dynamin 2 (DNM2) gene cause autosomal dominant centronuclear myopathy and occur in around 50% of patients with centronuclear myopathy. We report clinical, morphological, muscle imaging and genetic data of 10 unrelated Italian patients with centronuclear myopathy related to DNM2 mutations. Our results confirm the clinical heterogeneity of this disease, underlining some peculiar clinical features, such as severe pulmonary impairment and jaw contracture that should be considered in the clinical follow-up of these patients. Muscle MRI showed a distinct pattern of involvement, with predominant involvement of soleus and tibialis anterior in the lower leg muscles, followed by hamstring muscles and adductor magnus at thigh level and gluteus maximus. The detection of three novel DNM2 mutations and the first case of somatic mosaicism further expand the genetic spectrum of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3594745  PMID: 23394783
DNM2; Centronuclear myopathy; Muscle MRI; ‘Necklace’ fibers; Somatic mosaicism
16.  24 Month Longitudinal Data in Ambulant Boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52512.
The aim of the study was i) to assess the spectrum of changes over 24 months in ambulant boys affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy, ii) to establish the difference between the first and the second year results and iii) to identify possible early markers of loss of ambulation.
One hundred and thirteen patients (age range 4.1–17, mean 8.2) fulfilled the inclusion criteria, 67 of the 113 were on daily and 40 on intermittent steroids, while 6 were not on steroids. All were assessed using the 6 Minute Walk Test (6MWT), the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) and timed test.
On the 6MWT there was an average overall decline of −22.7 (SD 81.0) in the first year and of −64.7 (SD 123.1) in the second year. On the NSAA the average overall decline was of −1.86 (SD 4.21) in the first year and of −2.98 (SD 5.19) in the second year. Fourteen children lost ambulation, one in the first year and the other 13 in the second year of the study. A distance of at least 330 meters on the 6MWT, or a NSAA score of 18 at baseline reduced significantly the risk of losing ambulation within 2 years.
These results can be of help at the time of using inclusion criteria for a study in ambulant patients in order to minimize the risk of patients who may lose ambulation within the time of the trial.
PMCID: PMC3543414  PMID: 23326337
18.  Quantitative muscle strength assessment in duchenne muscular dystrophy: longitudinal study and correlation with functional measures 
BMC Neurology  2012;12:91.
The aim of this study was to perform a longitudinal assessment using Quantitative Muscle Testing (QMT) in a cohort of ambulant boys affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and to correlate the results of QMT with functional measures. This study is to date the most thorough long-term evaluation of QMT in a cohort of DMD patients correlated with other measures, such as the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) or thee 6-min walk test (6MWT).
This is a single centre, prospective, non-randomised, study assessing QMT using the Kin Com® 125 machine in a study cohort of 28 ambulant DMD boys, aged 5 to 12 years. This cohort was assessed longitudinally over a 12 months period of time with 3 monthly assessments for QMT and with assessment of functional abilities, using the NSAA and the 6MWT at baseline and at 12 months only. QMT was also used in a control group of 13 healthy age-matched boys examined at baseline and at 12 months.
There was an increase in QMT over 12 months in boys below the age of 7.5 years while in boys above the age of 7.5 years, QMT showed a significant decrease. All the average one-year changes were significantly different than those experienced by healthy controls. We also found a good correlation between quantitative tests and the other measures that was more obvious in the stronger children.
Our longitudinal data using QMT in a cohort of DMD patients suggest that this could be used as an additional tool to monitor changes, providing additional information on segmental strength.
PMCID: PMC3482602  PMID: 22974002
19.  Genetic characterization in symptomatic female DMD carriers: lack of relationship between X-inactivation, transcriptional DMD allele balancing and phenotype 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:73.
Although Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies, X-linked recessive myopathies, predominantly affect males, a clinically significant proportion of females manifesting symptoms have also been reported. They represent an heterogeneous group characterized by variable degrees of muscle weakness and/or cardiac involvement. Though preferential inactivation of the normal X chromosome has long been considered the principal mechanism behind disease manifestation in these females, supporting evidence is controversial.
Eighteen females showing a mosaic pattern of dystrophin expression on muscle biopsy were recruited and classified as symptomatic (7) or asymptomatic (11), based on the presence or absence of muscle weakness. The causative DMD gene mutations were identified in all cases, and the X-inactivation pattern was assessed in muscle DNA. Transcriptional analysis in muscles was performed in all females, and relative quantification of wild-type and mutated transcripts was also performed in 9 carriers. Dystrophin protein was quantified by immunoblotting in 2 females.
The study highlighted a lack of relationship between dystrophic phenotype and X-inactivation pattern in females; skewed X-inactivation was found in 2 out of 6 symptomatic carriers and in 5 out of 11 asymptomatic carriers. All females were characterized by biallelic transcription, but no association was found between X-inactivation pattern and allele transcriptional balancing. Either a prevalence of wild-type transcript or equal proportions of wild-type and mutated RNAs was observed in both symptomatic and asymptomatic females. Moreover, very similar levels of total and wild-type transcripts were identified in the two groups of carriers.
This is the first study deeply exploring the DMD transcriptional behaviour in a cohort of female carriers. Notably, no relationship between X-inactivation pattern and transcriptional behaviour of DMD gene was observed, suggesting that the two mechanisms are regulated independently. Moreover, neither the total DMD transcript level, nor the relative proportion of the wild-type transcript do correlate with the symptomatic phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3459813  PMID: 22894145
Dystrophinopathy; Female carriers; X-inactivation; Transcriptional balancing
20.  The empowerment of translational research: lessons from laminopathies 
The need for a collaborative approach to complex inherited diseases collectively referred to as laminopathies, encouraged Italian researchers, geneticists, physicians and patients to join in the Italian Network for Laminopathies, in 2009. Here, we highlight the advantages and added value of such a multidisciplinary effort to understand pathogenesis, clinical aspects and try to find a cure for Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, Mandibuloacral dysplasia, Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria and forms of lamin-linked cardiomyopathy, neuropathy and lipodystrophy.
PMCID: PMC3458975  PMID: 22691392
Laminopathies; Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy; Dilated Cardiomyopathy with Conduction Defects; Mandibuloacral Dysplasia; Familial Partial Lipodystrophy Type 2; Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome; Rare Diseases; Networking activity; interdisciplinary approach to diseases
21.  The use of muscle biopsy in the diagnosis of undefined ataxia with cerebellar atrophy in children 
Childhood cerebellar ataxias, and particularly congenital ataxias, are heterogeneous disorders and several remain undefined. We performed a muscle biopsy in patients with congenital ataxia and children with later onset undefined ataxia having neuroimaging evidence of cerebellar atrophy. Significant reduced levels of Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10) were found in the skeletal muscle of 9 out of 34 patients that were consecutively screened. A mutation in the ADCK3/Coq8 gene (R347X) was identified in a female patient with ataxia, seizures and markedly reduced COQ10 levels. In a 2.5-years-old male patient with non syndromic congenital ataxia and autophagic vacuoles in the muscle biopsy we identified a homozygous nonsense mutation R111X mutation in SIL1 gene, leading to early diagnosis of Marinesco-Sjogren syndrome. We think that muscle biopsy is a valuable procedure to improve diagnostic assesement in children with congenital ataxia or other undefined forms of later onset childhood ataxia associated to cerebellar atrophy at MRI.
PMCID: PMC3341568  PMID: 21873089
Inherited cerebellar ataxias; Marinesco-Sjogren syndrome; Coenzyme Q10 deficiency
22.  Spinal muscular atrophy 
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neuromuscular disease characterized by degeneration of alpha motor neurons in the spinal cord, resulting in progressive proximal muscle weakness and paralysis. Estimated incidence is 1 in 6,000 to 1 in 10,000 live births and carrier frequency of 1/40-1/60. This disease is characterized by generalized muscle weakness and atrophy predominating in proximal limb muscles, and phenotype is classified into four grades of severity (SMA I, SMAII, SMAIII, SMA IV) based on age of onset and motor function achieved. This disease is caused by homozygous mutations of the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, and the diagnostic test demonstrates in most patients the homozygous deletion of the SMN1 gene, generally showing the absence of SMN1 exon 7. The test achieves up to 95% sensitivity and nearly 100% specificity. Differential diagnosis should be considered with other neuromuscular disorders which are not associated with increased CK manifesting as infantile hypotonia or as limb girdle weakness starting later in life.
Considering the high carrier frequency, carrier testing is requested by siblings of patients or of parents of SMA children and are aimed at gaining information that may help with reproductive planning. Individuals at risk should be tested first and, in case of testing positive, the partner should be then analyzed. It is recommended that in case of a request on carrier testing on siblings of an affected SMA infant, a detailed neurological examination should be done and consideration given doing the direct test to exclude SMA. Prenatal diagnosis should be offered to couples who have previously had a child affected with SMA (recurrence risk 25%). The role of follow-up coordination has to be managed by an expert in neuromuscular disorders and in SMA who is able to plan a multidisciplinary intervention that includes pulmonary, gastroenterology/nutrition, and orthopedic care. Prognosis depends on the phenotypic severity going from high mortality within the first year for SMA type 1 to no mortality for the chronic and later onset forms.
PMCID: PMC3231874  PMID: 22047105
Proximal spinal muscular atrophy; SMN1; SMN2; motor neurons Disease names and synonyms: Spinal muscular atrophy 5q linked; Proximal SMA
23.  Adiposity is increased among High-Functioning, Non-Ambulatory Patients with Spinal Muscular Atrophy 
Neuromuscular disorders : NMD  2010;20(7):448-452.
The relationship between body composition and function in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is poorly understood. 53 subjects with SMA were stratified by type and Hammersmith Functional Motor Scale, Expanded score into three cohorts: Low-Functioning Non-Ambulatory (type 2 with Hammersmith score <12, n=19), High-Functioning Non-Ambulatory (type 2 with Hammersmith Score ≥ 12 or non-ambulatory type 3, n=17), and Ambulatory (n=17). Lean and fat mass was estimated using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. Anthropometric data was incorporated to measure fat-free (lean mass in kg /stature in m2) and fat (fat mass in kg /stature in m2) mass indices, the latter compared to published age and sex norms. Feeding dysfunction among type 2 subjects was assessed by questionnaire. Fat mass index was increased in the High-Functioning Non-Ambulatory cohort (10.4 ± 4.5) compared with both the ambulatory (7.2 ± 2.1, p = 0.013) and Low-Functioning Non-Ambulatory (7.6 ± 3.1, p = 0.040) cohorts. 12 of 17 subjects (71%) in the High-Functioning Non-Ambulatory cohort had fat mass index >85th percentile for age and gender (connoting “at risk of overweight”) versus 9 of 19 subjects (47%) in the Low-Functioning Non-Ambulatory cohort and 8 of 17 ambulatory subjects (47%). Despite differences in clinical function, a similar proportion of low functioning (7/18, 39%) and high functioning (2/7, 29%) type 2 subjects reported swallowing or feeding dysfunction. Non-ambulatory patients with relatively high clinical function may be at particular risk of excess adiposity, perhaps reflecting access to excess calories despite relative immobility, emphasizing the importance of individualized nutritional management in SMA.
PMCID: PMC2902766  PMID: 20610154
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.
PMCID: PMC2987170  PMID: 19603064
spinal muscular atrophy; real-time PCR; biomarker; SMN; transcripts
25.  Visual development in infants with prenatal post‐haemorrhagic ventricular dilatation 
The aim of this study was to assess visual function in 13 infants with evidence of prenatal post haemorrhagic ventricular dilatation.
Infants were assessed at 5, 12 and 24 months using a battery of tests specifically designed to assess various aspects of visual function in infancy. Visual findings were correlated with several variables, including extent of the lesion and presence of epilepsy.
Results and conclusions
Abnormalities of visual function were frequent (over 60%) in our cohort at age 2 years, ranging from isolated abnormal ocular movements to severe abnormalities of all the aspects of visual function assessed. The most severe and persistent abnormalities of visual function were found in infants with grade IV intraventricular haemorrhage and shunted hydrocephalus who also had epilepsy in the first year.
PMCID: PMC2675421  PMID: 17142298

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