Motor transmission defects with sex differences in a new mouse model of mild spinal muscular atrophy

EBioMedicine. 2020 May;55:102750. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.102750. Epub 2020 Apr 24.


Background: Mouse models of mild spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) have been extremely challenging to generate. This paucity of model systems has limited our understanding of pathophysiological events in milder forms of the disease and of the effect of SMN depletion during aging.

Methods: A mild mouse model of SMA, termed Smn2B/-;SMN2+/-, was generated by crossing Smn-/-;SMN2 and Smn2B/2B mice. This new model was characterized using behavioral testing, histology, western blot, muscle-nerve electrophysiology as well as ultrasonography to study classical SMA features and extra-neuronal involvement.

Findings: Smn2B/-;SMN2+/- mice have normal survival, mild but sustained motor weakness, denervation and neuronal/neuromuscular junction (NMJ) transmission defects, and neurogenic muscle atrophy that are more prominent in male mice. Increased centrally located nuclei, intrinsic contractile and relaxation muscle defects were also identified in both female and male mice, with some male predominance. There was an absence of extra-neuronal pathology.

Interpretation: The Smn2B/-;SMN2+/- mouse provides a model of mild SMA, displaying some hallmark features including reduced weight, sustained motor weakness, electrophysiological transmission deficit, NMJ defects, and muscle atrophy. Early and prominent increase central nucleation and intrinsic electrophysiological deficits demonstrate the potential role played by muscle in SMA disease. The use of this model will allow for the understanding of the most susceptible pathogenic molecular changes in motor neurons and muscles, investigation of the effects of SMN depletion in aging, sex differences and most importantly will provide guidance for the currently aging SMA patients treated with the recently approved genetic therapies.

Funding: This work was supported by Cure SMA/Families of SMA Canada (grant numbers KOT-1819 and KOT-2021); Muscular Dystrophy Association (USA) (grant number 575466); and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (grant number PJT-156379).

Keywords: Aging; Electrophysiology; Non-neuronal defects; SMN; Sex difference; Type IV.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Longevity / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motor Activity
  • Motor Neurons / cytology
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / genetics
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / physiopathology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiopathology*
  • Sciatic Nerve / metabolism
  • Sciatic Nerve / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein / genetics*
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • Smn1 protein, mouse
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein