The spinal muscular atrophies (SMAs), characterized by spinal cord motor neuron depletion, are among the most common autosomal recessive disorders. One model of SMA pathogenesis invokes an inappropriate persistence of normally occurring motor neuron apoptosis. Consistent with this hypothesis, the novel gene for neuronal apoptosis inhibitory protein (NAIP) has been mapped to the SMA region of chromosome 5q13.1 and is homologous with baculoviral apoptosis inhibitor proteins. The two first coding exons of this gene are deleted in approximately 67% of type I SMA chromosomes compared with 2% of non-SMA chromosomes. Furthermore, RT-PCR analysis reveals internally deleted and mutated forms of the NAIP transcript in type I SMA individuals and not in unaffected individuals. These findings suggest that mutations in the NAIP locus may lead to a failure of a normally occurring inhibition of motor neuron apoptosis resulting in or contributing to the SMA phenotype.