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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 May 25;96(11):6307-11.

A single nucleotide in the SMN gene regulates splicing and is responsible for spinal muscular atrophy.

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Department of Dermatology, New England Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


SMN1 and SMN2 (survival motor neuron) encode identical proteins. A critical question is why only the homozygous loss of SMN1, and not SMN2, results in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Analysis of transcripts from SMN1/SMN2 hybrid genes and a new SMN1 mutation showed a direct relationship between presence of disease and exon 7 skipping. We have reported previously that the exon-skipped product SMNDelta7 is partially defective for self-association and SMN self-oligomerization correlated with clinical severity. To evaluate systematically which of the five nucleotides that differ between SMN1 and SMN2 effect alternative splicing of exon 7, a series of SMN minigenes was engineered and transfected into cultured cells, and their transcripts were characterized. Of these nucleotide differences, the exon 7 C-to-T transition at codon 280, a translationally silent variance, was necessary and sufficient to dictate exon 7 alternative splicing. Thus, the failure of SMN2 to fully compensate for SMN1 and protect from SMA is due to a nucleotide exchange (C/T) that attenuates activity of an exonic enhancer. These findings demonstrate the molecular genetic basis for the nature and pathogenesis of SMA and illustrate a novel disease mechanism. Because individuals with SMA retain the SMN2 allele, therapy targeted at preventing exon 7 skipping could modify clinical outcome.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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