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Am J Hum Genet. 1996 Nov;59(5):1057-65.

Hybrid survival motor neuron genes in patients with autosomal recessive spinal muscular atrophy: new insights into molecular mechanisms responsible for the disease.

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Institute of Human Genetics, University of Bonn.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a frequent autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder leading to weakness and atrophy of voluntary muscles. The survival motor-neuron gene (SMN), a strong candidate for SMA, is present in two highly homologous copies (telSMN and cenSMN) within the SMA region. Only five nucleotide differences within the region between intron 6 and exon 8 distinguish these homologues. Independent of the severity of the disease, 90%-98% of all SMA patients carry homozygous deletions in telSMN, affecting either exon 7 or both exons 7 and 8. We present the molecular analysis of 42 SMA patients who carry homozygous deletions of telSMN exon 7 but not of exon 8. The question arises whether in these cases the telSMN is truncated upstream of exon 8 or whether hybrid SMN genes exist that are composed of centromeric and telomeric sequences. By a simple PCR-based assay we demonstrate that in each case the remaining telSMN exon 8 is part of a hybrid SMN gene. Sequencing of cloned hybrid SMN genes from seven patients, as well as direct sequencing and single-strand conformation analysis of all patients, revealed the same composition in all but two patients: the base-pair differences in introns 6 and 7 and exon 7 are of centromeric origin whereas exon 8 is of telomeric origin. Nonetheless, haplotype analysis with polymorphic multicopy markers, Ag1-CA and C212, localized at the 5' end of the SMN genes suggests different mechanisms of occurrence, unequal rearrangements, and gene conversion involving both copies of the SMN genes. In approximately half of all patients, we identified a consensus haplotype, suggesting a common origin. Interestingly, we identified a putative recombination hot spot represented by recombination-stimulating elements (TGGGG and TGAGGT) in exon 8 that is homologous to the human deletion-hot spot consensus sequence in the immunoglobulin switch region, the alpha-globin cluster, and the polymerase alpha arrest sites. This may explain why independent hybrid SMN genes show identical sequences.

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