Acta Neuropathologica

, Volume 116, Issue 3, pp 223–234 | Cite as

Pathogenesis of proximal autosomal recessive spinal muscular atrophy

  • Goran SimicEmail author


Although it is known that deletions or mutations of the SMN1 gene on chromosome 5 cause decreased levels of the SMN protein in subjects with proximal autosomal recessive spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the exact sequence of pathological events leading to selective motoneuron cell death is not fully understood yet. In this review, new findings regarding the dual cellular role of the SMN protein (translocation of β-actin to axonal growth cones and snRNP biogenesis/pre-mRNA splicing) were integrated with recent data obtained by detailed neuropathological examination of SMA and control subjects. A presumptive series of 10 pathogenetic events for SMA is proposed as follows: (1) deletions or mutations of the SMN1 gene, (2) increased SMN mRNA decay and reduction in full-length functional SMN protein, (3) impaired motoneuron axono- and dendrogenesis, (4) failure of motoneurons to form synapses with corticospinal fibers from upper motoneurons, (5) abnormal motoneuron migration towards ventral spinal roots, (6) inappropriate persistence of motoneuron apoptosis due to impaired differentiation and motoneuron displacement, (7) substantial numbers of motoneurons continuing to migrate abnormally (“heterotopic motoneurons”) and entering into the ventral roots, (8) attracted glial cells following these heterotopic motoneurons, which form the glial bundles of ventral roots, (9) impaired axonal transport of actin, causing remaining motoneurons to become chromatolytic, and (10) eventual death of all apoptotic, heterotopic and chromatolytic neurons, with apoptosis being more rapid and predominating in the earlier stages, with death of heterotopic and chromatolytic neurons occurring more slowly by necrosis during the later stages of SMA. According to this model, the motoneuron axonopathy is more important for pathogenesis than the ubiquitous nuclear splicing deficit. It is also supposed that individually variable levels of SMN protein, together with influences of other phenotype modifier genes and their products, cause the clinical SMA spectrum through differential degree of motoneuron functional loss.


Migration Motoneurons Pathogenesis Spinal muscular atrophy SMN1 gene 



The help of Dr. Patrick R. Hof (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY) in the preparation of this manuscript is greatly appreciated. Figure 3a is kindly provided by Jadranka Sertic and 3b by Glenn E. Morris.


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© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neuroscience, Croatian Institute for Brain Research, School of MedicineZagreb UniversityZagrebCroatia

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