Mildly affected patients with spinal muscular atrophy are partially protected by an increased SMN2 copy number
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Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a recessive neuromuscular disorder caused by loss of the SMN1 gene. The clinical distinction between SMA type I to IV reflects different age of onset and disease severity. SMN2, a nearly identical copy gene of SMN1, produces only 10% of full-length SMN RNA/protein and is an excellent target for a potential therapy. Several clinical trials with drugs that increase the SMN2 expression such as valproic acid and phenylbutyrate are in progress. Solid natural history data for SMA are crucial to enable a correlation between genotype and phenotype as well as the outcome of therapy. We provide genotypic and phenotypic data from 115 SMA patients with type IIIa (age of onset <3 years), type IIIb (age of onset >3 years) and rare type IV (onset >30 years). While 62% of type IIIa patients carry two or three SMN2 copies, 65% of type IIIb patients carry four or five SMN2 copies. Three type IV SMA patients had four and one had six SMN2 copies. Our data support the disease-modifying role of SMN2 leading to later onset and a better prognosis. A statistically significant correlation for ≥4 SMN2 copies with SMA type IIIb or a milder phenotype suggests that SMN2 copy number can be used as a clinical prognostic indicator in SMA patients. The additional case of a foetus with homozygous SMN1 deletion and postnatal measurement of five SMN2 copies illustrates the role of genotypic information in making informed decisions on the management and therapy of such patients.
KeywordsSpinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Survival motor neuron (SMN) Quantification of SMN2 Natural history
We are grateful to all SMA families and clinicians who contributed to this work. We are grateful to Yun Li for statistical advice. This study has been supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Families of SMA and Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne. HL is member of the German network on muscular dystrophies (MD-NET; 01GM0302), funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research.
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