A single nucleotide in the SMN gene regulates splicing and is responsible for spinal muscular atrophyChristian L. Lorson, Eric Hahnen, Elliot J. Androphy, Brunhilde Wirth
SMN1 and SMN2 (survival motor neuron) encode identical proteins. A critical question is why only the homozygous loss of SMN1 , and not SMN2 , results in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Analysis of transcripts from SMN1/SMN2 hybrid genes and a new SMN1 mutation showed a direct relationship between presence of disease and exon 7 skipping. We have reported previously that the exon-skipped product SMNΔ7 is partially defective for self-association and SMN self-oligomerization correlated with clinical severity. To evaluate systematically which of the five nucleotides that differ between SMN1 and SMN2 effect alternative splicing of exon 7, a series of SMN minigenes was engineered and transfected into cultured cells, and their transcripts were characterized. Of these nucleotide differences, the exon 7 C-to-T transition at codon 280, a translationally silent variance, was necessary and sufficient to dictate exon 7 alternative splicing. Thus, the failure of SMN2 to fully compensate for SMN1 and protect from SMA is due to a nucleotide exchange (C/T) that attenuates activity of an exonic enhancer. These findings demonstrate the molecular genetic basis for the nature and pathogenesis of SMA and illustrate a novel disease mechanism. Because individuals with SMA retain the SMN2 allele, therapy targeted at preventing exon 7 skipping could modify clinical outcome.