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J Child Neurol. 1992 Oct;7(4):347-53.

Spinal muscular atrophy: new thoughts on the pathogenesis and classification schema.

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Newington Children's Hospital, CT 06111.


We have established the first prospective, collaborative study of spinal muscular atrophy, the second most common neuromuscular disease of childhood. One hundred and forty-one patients have been evaluated on at least four occasions over a 3-year period. The patients have been grouped by age of onset, as well as by function at the time of initial evaluation. The muscle strength of 96 patients aged 5 years or older was evaluated at 6-month intervals using a fixed myometry system. The new observations made are: (1) The present classification schema is not valid; for example, 49 patients with onset of weakness before 6 months of age (type I or Werdnig-Hoffmann disease), whose life span is said to be only 2 to 4 years, participated in the study and are 4 months to 31 years of age. (2) Thirty-seven patients were evaluated over an 18-month period. None lost strength during this time but four lost function. Although the period of observation was short, the results suggest that the loss of function in patients with spinal muscular atrophy might be explained by a process other than cell death that allows patient strength to be maintained and simultaneously prevents the motor unit from achieving its normal adult potential.

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