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Brain. 2019 Feb 1;142(2):276-294. doi: 10.1093/brain/awy330.

Key role of SMN/SYNCRIP and RNA-Motif 7 in spinal muscular atrophy: RNA-Seq and motif analysis of human motor neurons.

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Dino Ferrari Centre, Neuroscience Section, Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation (DEPT), University of Milan, Milan, Italy.
Scientific Institute IRCCS E. MEDEA, Computational Biology, Bosisio Parini, Lecco, Italy.
Foundation IRCCS Ca' Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy.
Institute of Bioscience and BioResources, IBBR, CNR, Naples, Italy.


Spinal muscular atrophy is a motor neuron disorder caused by mutations in SMN1. The reasons for the selective vulnerability of motor neurons linked to SMN (encoded by SMN1) reduction remain unclear. Therefore, we performed deep RNA sequencing on human spinal muscular atrophy motor neurons to detect specific altered gene splicing/expression and to identify the presence of a common sequence motif in these genes. Many deregulated genes, such as the neurexin and synaptotagmin families, are implicated in critical motor neuron functions. Motif-enrichment analyses of differentially expressed/spliced genes, including neurexin2 (NRXN2), revealed a common motif, motif 7, which is a target of SYNCRIP. Interestingly, SYNCRIP interacts only with full-length SMN, binding and modulating several motor neuron transcripts, including SMN itself. SYNCRIP overexpression rescued spinal muscular atrophy motor neurons, due to the subsequent increase in SMN and their downstream target NRXN2 through a positive loop mechanism and ameliorated SMN-loss-related pathological phenotypes in Caenorhabditis elegans and mouse models. SMN/SYNCRIP complex through motif 7 may account for selective motor neuron degeneration and represent a potential therapeutic target.

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