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Nat Neurosci. 2017 Jul;20(7):905-916. doi: 10.1038/nn.4561. Epub 2017 May 15.

Reduced sensory synaptic excitation impairs motor neuron function via Kv2.1 in spinal muscular atrophy.

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Center for Motor Neuron Biology and Disease, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.
Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.
Department of Neurology, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.


Behavioral deficits in neurodegenerative diseases are often attributed to the selective dysfunction of vulnerable neurons via cell-autonomous mechanisms. Although vulnerable neurons are embedded in neuronal circuits, the contributions of their synaptic partners to disease process are largely unknown. Here we show that, in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a reduction in proprioceptive synaptic drive leads to motor neuron dysfunction and motor behavior impairments. In SMA mice or after the blockade of proprioceptive synaptic transmission, we observed a decrease in the motor neuron firing that could be explained by the reduction in the expression of the potassium channel Kv2.1 at the surface of motor neurons. Chronically increasing neuronal activity pharmacologically in vivo led to a normalization of Kv2.1 expression and an improvement in motor function. Our results demonstrate a key role of excitatory synaptic drive in shaping the function of motor neurons during development and the contribution of its disruption to a neurodegenerative disease.

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