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Hum Mol Genet. 1995 Oct;4(10):1927-33.

Molecular analysis of candidate genes on chromosome 5q13 in autosomal recessive spinal muscular atrophy: evidence of homozygous deletions of the SMN gene in unaffected individuals.

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  • 1Institute of Human Genetics, Bonn, Germany.


Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a common autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder characterized by degeneration of anterior horn cells in the spinal cord leading to weakness and wasting of voluntary muscles. Here we present the molecular analysis of both SMA candidate genes, the survival motor neuron gene (SMN; exons 7 and 8) and the neuronal apoptosis inhibitory protein gene (NAIP; exons 5, 6 and 13), in 195 patients and 348 parents of SMA families mainly of German origin. The SMN gene is homozygously deleted for both exons 7 and 8 or exon 7 only in 96% of type I SMA, 94% of type II SMA and 82% of type III SMA as well as in 0.3% of SMA parents. The NAIP gene is homozygously deleted in 46% of type I SMA, 17% of type II SMA, 7% of type III SMA and 2% of SMA parents. The frequencies of deletions in patients for both genes, SMN and NAIP, correspond to those for the NAIP gene only. SMA patients of this series who did not show deletions were clinically indistinguishable from deleted patients. In addition to one unaffected mother of a type II SMA patient, we found homozygous deletions of the SMN gene exons 7 and 8 in six further unaffected individuals, all sibs of type II and III patients. These belonged to four families with affected and unaffected sibs who showed identical haplotypes for all SMA flanking markers; therefore, we had regarded these families as chromosome 5 unlinked. All seven unaffected individuals in whom we detected SMA deletions do not show any signs of muscle weakness and are physically inconspicuous. The largest divergence between age at onset of an affected subject and the present age of unaffected deleted sibs is four decades now. The occurrence of SMN deletions in unaffected individuals suggests that other genes or mechanisms may be necessary to produce the SMA phenotype.

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