Utilizing gene therapy methods to probe the genetic requirements to prevent spinal muscular atrophy.
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Spinal Muscular Atrophy is clinically recognized as a progressive weakness within the trunk and proximal limbs that will lead to breathing failure and death within infants. As a neurodegenerative genetic disease, SMA is caused by loss of motor neurons, which in turn is caused by low levels of the Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) protein. The mechanism by which a ubiquitously expressed protein such as SMN is able to cause the specific death of motor neurons is highly debated and of great interest. Work presented here focuses on understanding the biological requirements of SMN and its downstream effects on the neuromuscular junction. To this end we utilize viral based gene delivery as a powerful tool to assess the effects of genes of interest in vivo. Our findings contribute to the conversation regarding whether SMA is truly a "motor neuron" disease, suggesting that astrocytes play a meaningful role in staving off SMA. Further, we investigate the domains within SMN needed to maintain its function in a mammalian system. We take a novel and challenging approach to identify a minimal domain capable of maintaining function. Finally, we demonstrate the practical use of morophological analysis of the neuromuscular junction as a means to characterize SMA pathology.