Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an inherited motor neuron disease caused by mutation of the telomeric copy of the survival motor neuron gene (SMN1). Although a centromeric copy of the survival motor neuron gene (SMN2) is retained in all patients with SMA, it differs from SMN1 at a critical nucleotide such that the majority of SMN2 transcripts lack exon 7 and encode an unstable, truncated protein. Here, we show that valproic acid increases levels of exon 7–containing SMN transcript and SMN protein in type I SMA patient–derived fibroblast cell lines. Valproic acid may increase SMN levels both by activating the SMN promoter and by preventing exon 7 skipping in SMN transcripts. Valproic acid and related compounds warrant further investigation as potential treatment for SMA. Ann Neurol 2003;54:647–654