Motor unit recovery following Smn restoration in mouse models of spinal muscular atrophy

Hum Mol Genet. 2022 Sep 10;31(18):3107-3119. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddac097.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a childhood motor neuron disease caused by anomalies in the SMN1 gene. Although therapeutics have been approved for the treatment of SMA, there is a therapeutic time window, after which efficacy is reduced. Hallmarks of motor unit pathology in SMA include loss of motor-neurons and neuromuscular junction (NMJs). Following an increase in Smn levels, it is unclear how much damage can be repaired and the degree to which normal connections are re-established. Here, we perform a detailed analysis of motor unit pathology before and after restoration of Smn levels. Using a Smn-inducible mouse model of SMA, we show that genetic restoration of Smn results in a dramatic reduction in NMJ pathology, with restoration of innervation patterns, preservation of axon and endplate number and normalized expression of P53-associated transcripts. Notably, presynaptic swelling and elevated Pmaip levels remained. We analysed the effect of either early or delayed treated of an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) targeting SMN2 on a range of differentially vulnerable muscles. Following ASO administration, the majority of endplates appeared fully occupied. However, there was an underlying loss of axons and endplates, which was more prevalent following a delay in treatment. There was an increase in average motor unit size following both early and delayed treatment. Together this work demonstrates the remarkably regenerative capacity of the motor neuron following Smn restoration, but highlights that recovery is incomplete. This work suggests that there is an opportunity to enhance neuromuscular junction recovery following administration of Smn-enhancing therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal* / genetics
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal* / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal* / therapy
  • Oligonucleotides / pharmacology
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / pharmacology
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein / genetics
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53* / metabolism


  • Oligonucleotides
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53