Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects alpha motoneurons in the spinal cord caused by homozygous deletion or specific mutations in the survival motoneuron-1 (SMN1) gene. Cell migration is critical at many stages of nervous system development; to investigate the role of SMN in cell migration, U87MG astroglioma cells were transduced with shSMN lentivectors and about 60% reduction in SMN expression was achieved. In a monolayer wound-healing assay, U87MG SMN-depleted cells exhibit reduced cell migration. In these cells, RhoA was activated and phosphorylated levels of myosin regulatory light chain (MLC), a substrate of the Rho kinase (ROCK), were found increased. The decrease in cell motility was related to activation of RhoA/Rho kinase (ROCK) signaling pathway as treatment with the ROCK inhibitor Y-27632 abrogated both the motility defects and MLC phosphorylation in SMN-depleted cells. As cell migration is regulated by continuous remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton, the actin distribution was studied in SMN-depleted cells. A shift from filamentous to monomeric (globular) actin, involving the disappearance of stress fibers, was observed. In addition, profilin I, an actin-sequestering protein showed an increased expression in SMN-depleted cells. SMN is known to physically interact with profilin, reducing its actin-sequestering activity. The present results suggest that in SMN-depleted cells, the increase in profilin I expression and the reduction in SMN inhibitory action on profilin could lead to reduced filamentous actin polymerization, thus decreasing cell motility. We propose that the alterations reported here in migratory activity in SMN-depleted cells, related to abnormal activation of RhoA/ROCK pathway and increased profilin I expression could have a role in developing nervous system by impairing normal neuron and glial cell migration and thus contributing to disease pathogenesis in SMA.
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