Systemically low levels of survival motor neuron-1 (SMN1) protein cause spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). α-Motor neurons of the spinal cord are considered particularly vulnerable in this genetic disorder and their dysfunction and loss cause progressive muscle weakness, paralysis and eventually premature death of afflicted individuals. Historically, SMA was therefore considered a motor neuron-autonomous disease. However, depletion of SMN in motor neurons of normal mice elicited only a very mild phenotype. Conversely, restoration of SMN to motor neurons in an SMA mouse model had only modest effects on the SMA phenotype and survival. Collectively, these results suggested that additional cell types contribute to the pathogenesis of SMA, and understanding the non-autonomous requirements is crucial for developing effective therapies. Astrocytes are critical for regulating synapse formation and function as well as metabolic support for neurons. We hypothesized that astrocyte functions are disrupted in SMA, exacerbating disease progression. Using viral-based restoration of SMN specifically to astrocytes, survival in severe and intermediate SMA mice was observed. In addition, neuromuscular circuitry was improved. Astrogliosis was prominent in end-stage SMA mice and in post-mortem patient spinal cords. Increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines was partially normalized in treated mice, suggesting that astrocytes contribute to the pathogenesis of SMA.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology