Spinal Muscular Atrophy

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Spinal Muscular Atrophy is the most common genetic cause of infant death, occurring in 1 in 6,000-10,000 births. This is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by mutations in the SMN1 gene, encoding a protein involved in snRNP maturation. Humans have undergone an SMN gene duplication generating the SMN2 gene. Even though it encodes an identical protein, the presence of SMN2 cannot compensate for the loss of SMN1 in spinal muscular atrophy, because its splicing is abnormal and it does not produce functional protein.

Splicing targeted therapies are being tested for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. A single C to T mutation in an exonic splicing enhancer of SMN2 exon 7 causes exon skipping and production of a truncated protein from 80% of the SMN2 mRNA. If drugs or other therapies could be found that increase exon 7 splicing of SMN2, one could potentially treat the disease even without correcting the SMN1 defect.