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Treatment Extends Survival in Mouse Model of Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Drug therapy can extend survival and improve movement in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), new research shows. The study, carried out at the NIH’s National// Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), suggests that similar drugs might one day be useful for treating human SMA.

"This study shows that treatment can be effective when started after the disease appears," says Kenneth H. Fischbeck, M.D., of the NINDS, who helped lead the new study. The finding is important because most children with SMA are diagnosed after symptoms of the disease become obvious, he adds.

SMA is the most common severe hereditary neurological disease of childhood, affecting one in every 8,000-10,000 children. Babies with the most common form of the disease, called SMA type I, develop symptoms before birth or in the first few months of life and have severe muscle weakness that makes it difficult for them to breathe, eat, and move. They usually die by age two. Other forms of SMA are not as severe, but still cause significant disability. While some symptoms of SMA can be alleviated, there is currently no treatment that can change the course of the disease.

SMA is caused by mutations in a gene called SMN1. Investigators studying the genetics of SMA have found that there is another gene, called SMN2, on the same chromosome. While the normal form of SMN1 produces a full-length functional protein, most of the protein produced by SMN2 is truncated and unable to function. The relatively small amount of normal SMN protein produced by the SMN2 gene can reduce the severity of the disease. Therefore, investigators are searching for drugs that can increase the amount of normal protein produced by this gene.

The new study, directed by Dr. Fischbeck's colleague Charlotte J. Sumner, M.D., at NINDS, tested a drug called trichostatin A (TSA) that is in a class of drugs called histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. These drugs increase the a
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