Researchers identify genetic mutation causing rare form of spinal muscular atrophy

May 10, 2012

Scientists have confirmed that mutations of a gene are responsible for some cases of a rare, inherited disease that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness: spinal muscular atrophy with lower extremity predominance, also known as SMA-LED.

"Typical spinal muscular atrophies begin in or early childhood and are fatal, involving all motor neurons, but SMA-LED predominantly affects controlling muscles of the legs. It is not fatal and the prognosis is good, although patients usually are moderately disabled and require assistive devices such as bracing and wheelchairs throughout their lives," said Robert H. Baloh, MD, PhD, director of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's Neuromuscular Division and senior author of a Neurology article describing the new findings on DYNC1H1.

It is a molecule inside cells that acts as a motor to transport . Using cells cultured from patients, Baloh's group showed that the mutation disrupts this motor's function. The researchers found that some subjects with mutations had global developmental delay in addition to weakness, indicating the brain also is involved.

"Our observations suggest that a range of DYNC1H1-related disease exists in humans – from a widespread neurodevelopmental abnormality of the central nervous system to more selective involvement of certain motor neurons, which manifests as ," Baloh said.

He pointed out that while this molecule is responsible for some inheritable cases of spinal muscular atrophy with lower extremity predominance, the genetic mutation is absent in others. The search continues, therefore, to find other culprit genetic and develop biological therapies to correct them.

"Although this is a rare form of motor neuron disease, it tells us that dynein function – the molecular motor – is crucial for the development and maintenance of , which we hope will provide insight into the common form of spinal muscular atrophy and also amyotrophic lateral sclerosis," Baloh said. ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Baloh, an expert in treating and studying neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases, joined Cedars-Sinai in early 2012, working with other physicians and scientists in the Department of Neurology and the Regenerative Medicine Institute to establish one of the most comprehensive neuromuscular disease treatment and research teams in California.

Explore further: Researchers find new insight into spinal muscular atrophy

More information: Citation: Neurology, March 28, 2012, published online ahead of print: "Mutations in the tail domain of DYNC1H1 cause dominant spinal muscular atrophy."

Related Stories

Researchers find new insight into spinal muscular atrophy

September 26, 2011

Researchers at the University of Missouri have identified a communication breakdown between nerves and muscles in mice that may provide new insight into the debilitating and fatal human disease known as spinal muscular atrophy ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.