Advances in modeling and treating spinal muscular atrophy

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an inherited childhood neurodegenerative disorder caused by ubiquitous deficiency of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein – the hallmarks of which are the selective loss of motor neurons and skeletal muscle atrophy. Here, we highlight recent progress in the understanding of SMA pathology and in the development of therapeutic approaches for its treatment.

Recent findings

Phenotypic characterization of mouse models of the disease, combined with analysis of SMN restoration or depletion in a spatially and temporally controlled manner, has yielded key insights into the normal requirement of SMN and SMA pathophysiology. Increasing evidence indicates a higher demand for SMN during neuromuscular development and extends the pathogenic effects of SMN deficiency beyond motor neurons to include additional cells both within and outside the nervous system. These findings have been paralleled by preclinical development of powerful approaches for increasing SMN expression through gene therapy or splicing modulation that are now in human trials.

Summary

Along with the availability of SMN-upregulating drugs, identification of the specific cell types in which SMN deficiency induces the disease and delineation of the window of opportunity for effective treatment are key advances in the ongoing path to SMA therapy.

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