Molecular Medicine Israel

A spinal muscular atrophy modifier implicates the SMN protein in SNARE complex assembly at neuromuscular synapses


  • An Hspa8G470R synaptic chaperone variant genetically suppresses SMA severity
  • SNARE complex formation is disrupted in SMA neuromuscular junctions (NMJs)
  • Disrupted SNARE complexes in SMA NMJs link SMN to motor neuron disease
  • Hspa8G470R stimulates SNARE complex formation and functions in splice-switching


Reduced survival motor neuron (SMN) protein triggers the motor neuron disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Restoring SMN prevents disease, but it is not known how neuromuscular function is preserved. We used model mice to map and identify an Hspa8G470R synaptic chaperone variant, which suppressed SMA. Expression of the variant in the severely affected mutant mice increased lifespan >10-fold, improved motor performance, and mitigated neuromuscular pathology. Mechanistically, Hspa8G470R altered SMN2 splicing and simultaneously stimulated formation of a tripartite chaperone complex, critical for synaptic homeostasis, by augmenting its interaction with other complex members. Concomitantly, synaptic vesicular SNARE complex formation, which relies on chaperone activity for sustained neuromuscular synaptic transmission, was found perturbed in SMA mice and patient-derived motor neurons and was restored in modified mutants. Identification of the Hspa8G470R SMA modifier implicates SMN in SNARE complex assembly and casts new light on how deficiency of the ubiquitous protein causes motor neuron disease.

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