The Actin Cytoskeleton in SMA and ALS: How Does It Contribute to Motoneuron Degeneration?

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) are neurodegenerative diseases with overlapping clinical phenotypes based on impaired motoneuron function. However, the pathomechanisms of both diseases are largely unknown, and it is still unclear whether they converge on the molecular level. SMA is a monogenic disease caused by low levels of functional Survival of Motoneuron (SMN) protein, whereas ALS involves multiple genes as well as environmental factors. Recent evidence argues for involvement of actin regulation as a causative and dysregulated process in both diseases. ALS-causing mutations in the actin-binding protein profilin-1 as well as the ability of the SMN protein to directly bind to profilins argue in favor of a common molecular mechanism involving the actin cytoskeleton. Profilins are major regulat ors of actin-dynamics being involved in multiple neuronal motility and transport processes as well as modulation of synaptic functions that are impaired in models of both motoneuron diseases. In this article, we review the current literature in SMA and ALS research with a focus on the actin cytoskeleton. We propose a common molecular mechanism that explains the degeneration of motoneurons for SMA and some cases of ALS.

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