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PLoS One. 2014 Oct 22;9(10):e110846. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110846. eCollection 2014.

Presynaptic localization of Smn and hnRNP R in axon terminals of embryonic and postnatal mouse motoneurons.

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Institute for Clinical Neurobiology, University Hospital Wuerzburg, Wuerzburg, Germany.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by deficiency of the ubiquitously expressed survival motoneuron (SMN) protein. SMN is crucial component of a complex for the assembly of spliceosomal small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) particles. Other cellular functions of SMN are less characterized so far. SMA predominantly affects lower motoneurons, but the cellular basis for this relative specificity is still unknown. In contrast to nonneuronal cells where the protein is mainly localized in perinuclear regions and the nucleus, Smn is also present in dendrites, axons and axonal growth cones of isolated motoneurons in vitro. However, this distribution has not been shown in vivo and it is not clear whether Smn and hnRNP R are also present in presynaptic axon terminals of motoneurons in postnatal mice. Smn also associates with components not included in the classical SMN complex like RNA-binding proteins FUS, TDP43, HuD and hnRNP R which are involved in RNA processing, subcellular localization and translation. We show here that Smn and hnRNP R are present in presynaptic compartments at neuromuscular endplates of embryonic and postnatal mice. Smn and hnRNP R are localized in close proximity to each other in axons and axon terminals both in vitro and in vivo. We also provide new evidence for a direct interaction of Smn and hnRNP R in vitro and in vivo, particularly in the cytosol of motoneurons. These data point to functions of SMN beyond snRNP assembly which could be crucial for recruitment and transport of RNA particles into axons and axon terminals, a mechanism which may contribute to SMA pathogenesis.

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