Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disorder caused by depletion of survival motor neuron (SMN) protein and characterized by degeneration of alpha-motor neurons in the spinal cord. We investigated the morphology and differentiation of neurosphere-derived neural stem cells (NSCs) generated from the brains of a hypomorphic series of SMA mice. Neurospheres from the Smn(-/-);SMN2 mice, which represent a model of very severe SMA, produced NSCs with increased proliferation during growth and differentiation. These cells produced fewer Tuj1-positive neuronal cells, which displayed morphological alterations and had fewer and shorter neurites. The decrease in the number of Tuj1-positive cells was not a result of enhanced apoptosis but was accompanied by an increase in the number of nestin-positive cells. These results provide insight into the most severe model of SMA, in which SMN is nearly completely depleted, and suggest that SMN has a role in neurodevelopment as well as in neuromaintenance. Our work raises the possibility that SMN depletion affects neurodevelopment and neuromaintenance to varying extents, leading to SMA pathogenesis.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.