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Ann Neurol. 1997 Feb;41(2):230-7.

Deletion and conversion in spinal muscular atrophy patients: is there a relationship to severity?

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  • 1Department of Molecular Genetics, College of Biological Sciences, Ohio State University, Columbus, USA.


The spinal muscular atrophy-determining gene, survival motor neuron (SMN), is present in two copies, telSMN and cenSMN, which can be distinguished by base-pair changes in exons 7 and 8. The telSMN gene is often absent in spinal muscular atrophy patients, which could be due to deletion or sequence conversion (telSMN conversion to cenSMN giving rise to two cenSMN genes). To test for conversion events in spinal muscular atrophy, we amplified a 1-kb fragment that spanned exons 7 and 8 of SMN from 5 patients who retained telSMN exon 8 but lacked exon 7. In all patients, sequence analysis demonstrated that cenSMN exon 7 was adjacent to telSMN exon 8, indicating conversion. All 5 patients with this mutation had type II or III spinal muscular atrophy, strongly supporting an association with chronic spinal muscular atrophy. We also identified 3 families in which 2 siblings had no detectable telSMN but presented with markedly different phenotypes. We suggest that sequence conversion is a common event in spinal muscular atrophy and is associated with the milder form of the disease. The severity, however, can be modified in either a positive or negative direction by other factors that influence splicing or expression of the sequence converted SMN gene.

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