Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an inherited neuromuscular disorder caused by reduced expression of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. SMN has key functions in multiple RNA pathways, including the biogenesis of small nuclear ribonucleoproteins that are essential components of both major (U2-dependent) and minor (U12-dependent) spliceosomes. Here we investigated the specific contribution of U12 splicing dysfunction to SMA pathology through selective restoration of this RNA pathway in mouse models of varying phenotypic severity. We show that virus-mediated delivery of minor snRNA genes specifically improves select U12 splicing defects induced by SMN deficiency in cultured mammalian cells, as well as in the spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of SMA mice without increasing SMN expression. This approach resulted in a moderate amelioration of several parameters of the disease phenotype in SMA mice, including survival, weight gain, and motor function. Importantly, minor snRNA gene delivery improved aberrant splicing of the U12 intron–containing gene Stasimon and rescued the severe loss of proprioceptive sensory synapses on SMA motor neurons, which are early signatures of motor circuit dysfunction in mouse models. Taken together, these findings establish the direct contribution of U12 splicing dysfunction to synaptic deafferentation and motor circuit pathology in SMA.
Erkan Y. Osman, Meaghan Van Alstyne, Pei-Fen Yen, Francesco Lotti, Zhihua Feng, Karen K.Y. Ling, Chien-Ping Ko, Livio Pellizzoni, Christian L. Lorson