Diminished motor neuron activity driven by abnormal astrocytic EAAT1 glutamate transporter activity in spinal muscular atrophy is not fully restored after lentiviral SMN delivery

Glia. 2023 May;71(5):1311-1332. doi: 10.1002/glia.24340. Epub 2023 Jan 18.


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is characterized by the loss of the lower spinal motor neurons due to survival motor neuron (SMN) deficiency. The motor neuron cell autonomous and non-cell autonomous disease mechanisms driving early glutamatergic dysfunction, a therapeutically targetable phenotype prior to motor neuron cell loss, remain unclear. Using microelectrode array analysis, we demonstrate that the secretome and cell surface proteins needed for proper synaptic modulation are likely disrupted in human SMA astrocytes and lead to diminished motor neuron activity. While healthy astrocyte conditioned media did not improve SMA motor neuron activity, SMA motor neurons robustly responded to healthy astrocyte neuromodulation in direct contact cultures. This suggests an important role of astrocyte synaptic-associated plasma membrane proteins and contact-mediated cellular interactions for proper motor neuron function in SMA. Specifically, we identified a significant reduction of the glutamate Na+ dependent excitatory amino acid transporter EAAT1 within human SMA astrocytes and SMA lumbar spinal cord tissue. The selective inhibition of EAAT1 in healthy co-cultures phenocopied the diminished neural activity observed in SMA astrocyte co-cultures. Caveolin-1, an SMN-interacting protein previously associated with local translation at the plasma membrane, was abnormally elevated in human SMA astrocytes. Although lentiviral SMN delivery to SMA astrocytes partially rescued EAAT1 expression, limited activity of healthy motor neurons was still observed in SMN-transduced SMA astrocyte co-cultures. Together, these data highlight the detrimental impact of astrocyte-mediated disease mechanisms on motor neuron function in SMA and that SMN delivery may be insufficient to fully restore astrocyte function at the synapse.

Keywords: EAAT1; EAAT2; astrocytes; caveolin-1; human induced pluripotent stem cells; lentiviral gene therapy; microelectrode array; survival motor neuron; synapse.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes* / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal* / genetics
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal* / metabolism
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein / genetics
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Glutamic Acid
  • SLC1A3 protein, human
  • Transcription Factors
  • Survival of Motor Neuron 1 Protein