Spinal muscular atrophy is one of the most common autosomal recessive diseases, affecting approximately one in 10,000 live births and with a carrier frequency of approximately one in 50. Spinal muscular atrophy is caused by a deficiency of the ubiquitous protein survival of motor neuron (SMN), which is encoded by the SMN genes, SMN1 and SMN2. Due to a single nucleotide polymorphism (840C>T), SMN2 produces less full-length transcript than SMN1 and cannot entirely prevent neuronal cell death at physiologic gene dosages. The 38-kDa SMN protein comprises 294 amino acids and is involved in the biogenesis of uridine-rich small nuclear ribonucleoproteins, facilitating their cytoplasmic assembly into the spliceosome. Various animal models have been developed to study the pathogenesis of spinal muscular atrophy, as well as to test novel therapeutics. Common PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism assays can detect the homozygous absence of SMN1 in approximately 94% of patients with clinically typical spinal muscular atrophy. SMN gene dosage analysis can determine the copy number of SMN1 to detect carriers and patients heterozygous for the absence of SMN1. Due to the genetic complexity and the high carrier frequency, accurate risk assessment and genetic counseling are particularly important. Comprehensive SMA genetic testing, combined with appropriate genetic counseling and risk assessment, provides the most complete evaluation of patients and their families at this time. New technologies, such as monosomal analysis techniques, may be widely available in the future.
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