The motor neuron disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is one of the leading genetic killers of infants worldwide. SMA is caused by mutation of the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene and deficiency of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. All patients retain one or more copies of the SMN2 gene, which (by producing a small amount of the SMN protein) rescues embryonic lethality and modifies disease severity. Rapid progress continues in dissecting the cellular functions of the SMN protein, but the mechanisms linking SMN deficiency with dysfunction and loss of functioning motor units remain poorly defined. Clinically, SMA should to be distinguished from other neuromuscular disorders, and the diagnosis can be readily confirmed with genetic testing. Quality of life and survival of SMA patients are improved with aggressive supportive care including optimized respiratory and nutritional care and management of scoliosis and contractures. Because SMA is caused by inadequate amounts of SMN protein, one aim of current SMA therapeutics development is to increase SMN protein levels in SMA patients by activating SMN2 gene expression and/or increasing levels of full-length SMN2 transcripts. Several potential therapeutic compounds are currently being studied in clinical trials in SMA patients.