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Keywords:

  • Spinal muscular atrophy;
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells;
  • Motoneurons;
  • Lentiviral vectors

Abstract

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is one of the most common autosomal recessive disorders in humans and is a common genetic cause of infant mortality. The disease is caused by loss of the survival of motoneuron (SMN) protein, resulting in the degeneration of alpha motoneurons in spinal cord and muscular atrophy in the limbs and trunk. One function of SMN involves RNA splicing. It is unclear why a deficiency in a housekeeping function such as RNA splicing causes profound effects only on motoneurons but not on other cell types. One difficulty in studying SMA is the scarcity of patient's samples. The discovery that somatic cells can be reprogrammed to become induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSCs) raises the intriguing possibility of modeling human diseases in vitro. We reported the establishment of five iPSC lines from the fibroblasts of a type 1 SMA patient. Neuronal cultures derived from these SMA iPSC lines exhibited a reduced capacity to form motoneurons and an abnormality in neurite outgrowth. Ectopic SMN expression in these iPSC lines restored normal motoneuron differentiation and rescued the phenotype of delayed neurite outgrowth. These results suggest that the observed abnormalities are indeed caused by SMN deficiency and not by iPSC clonal variability. Further characterization of the cellular and functional deficits in motoneurons derived from these iPSCs may accelerate the exploration of the underlying mechanisms of SMA pathogenesis. STEM CELLS 2011;29:2090–2093.