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Am J Pathol. 1998 Aug;153(2):355-61.

Cell-specific survival motor neuron gene expression during human development of the central nervous system: implications for the pathogenesis of spinal muscular atrophy.

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  • 1Servei de Genética, Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona, Spain. etizzano@santpau.es


Spinal muscular atrophy is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by the progressive loss or degeneration of the motor neurons. To investigate the expression of survival motor neuron (SMN), the spinal muscular atrophy-determining gene, and its relationship with the pathogenesis of the disease, we analyzed by means of in situ hybridization the location of SMN mRNA in fetal, newborn, infant, and adult human central nervous system tissues. The large motor neurons of the spinal cord are the main cells that express SMN together with the neurons of the medulla oblongata, the pyramidal cells of the cortex, and the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum. Some sensory neurons from the posterior horn and dorsal root ganglia express SMN to a lesser degree. Furthermore, strong SMN expression is detected in the ependymal cells of the central canal. The expression is present in the spinal cord at 8 weeks of fetal life throughout postnatal and adult life. The sharp expression of SMN in the motor neurons of the human spinal cord, the target cells in spinal muscular atrophy, suggests that this gene is implicated in neuronal development and in the pathogenesis of the disease. The location of the SMN gene expression in other neuronal structures not clearly or directly associated with clinical manifestations or pathological findings of spinal muscular atrophy may indicate a varying sensitivity to the absence or dysfunction of the SMN gene in motor neurons.

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