Reduced P53 levels ameliorate neuromuscular junction loss without affecting motor neuron pathology in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy

Cell Death Dis. 2019 Jul 4;10(7):515. doi: 10.1038/s41419-019-1727-6.


Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a childhood motor neuron disease caused by mutations or deletions within the SMN1 gene. At endstages of disease there is profound loss of motor neurons, loss of axons within ventral roots and defects at the neuromuscular junctions (NMJ), as evidenced by pathological features such as pre-synaptic loss and swelling and post-synaptic shrinkage. Although these motor unit defects have been widely described, the time course and interdependancy of these aspects of motor unit degeneration are unclear. Recent reports have also revealed an early upregulation of transcripts associated with the P53 signalling pathway. The relationship between the upregulation of these transcripts and pathology within the motor unit is also unclear. In this study, we exploit the prolonged disease timecourse and defined pre-symptomatic period in the Smn2B/- mouse model to perform a temporal analysis of the different elements of motor unit pathology. We demonstrate that NMJ loss occurs prior to cell body loss, and coincides with the onset of symptoms. The onset of NMJ pathology also coincides with an increase in P53-related transcripts at the cell body. Finally, using a tamoxifen inducible P53 knockout, we demonstrate that post-natal reduction in P53 levels can reduce NMJ loss, but does not affect other aspects of NMJ pathology, motor neuron loss or the phenotype of the Smn2B/- mouse model. Together this work provides a detailed temporal description of pathology within motor units of an SMA mouse model, and demonstrates that NMJ loss is a P53-dependant process. This work supports the role for P53 as an effector of synaptic and axonal degeneration in a die-back neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Neurons / pathology*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / metabolism*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / pathology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / pathology*
  • Phenotype
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53