Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2020 Oct;26(5):1348-1368. doi: 10.1212/CON.0000000000000918.


Purpose of review: This article provides an overview of the pathophysiology and clinical presentations of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and reviews therapeutic developments, including US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved gene-targeted therapies and mainstays of supportive SMA care.

Recent findings: Over the past decades, an understanding of the role of SMN protein in the development and maintenance of the motor unit and the intricate genetics underlying SMA has led to striking developments in therapeutics with three FDA-approved treatments for SMA, one targeting SMN1 gene replacement (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi) and two others enhancing SMN protein production from the SMN2 gene (nusinersen and risdiplam). These therapies are most effective in infants treated at younger ages, and improvement is most striking in babies treated as neonates. Despite improvements in motor function, patients (especially those treated at older ages) continue to experience significant weakness and require continued close monitoring of respiratory and orthopedic symptoms.

Summary: Striking therapeutic advancements have changed the clinical course of SMA dramatically, although supportive care continues to play an important role in patient care.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azo Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Biological Products / pharmacology*
  • Genetic Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / diagnosis*
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / genetics
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / physiopathology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / therapy*
  • Neuromuscular Agents / pharmacology*
  • Oligonucleotides / pharmacology*
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 2 Protein


  • Azo Compounds
  • Biological Products
  • Neuromuscular Agents
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Pyrimidines
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • SMN1 protein, human
  • SMN2 protein, human
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 2 Protein
  • Zolgensma
  • nusinersen
  • Risdiplam