Compensatory axon sprouting for very slow axonal die-back in a transgenic model of spinal muscular atrophy type III

Esther Udina, Charles T. Putman, Luke R. Harris, Neil Tyreman, Victoria E. Cook, Tessa Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2016 The Physiological Society Key points: Smn+/− transgenic mouse is a model of the mildest form of spinal muscular atrophy. Although there is a loss of spinal motoneurons in 11-month-old animals, muscular force is maintained. This maintained muscular force is mediated by reinnervation of the denervated fibres by surviving motoneurons. The spinal motoneurons in these animals do not show an increased susceptibility to death after nerve injury and they retain their regenerative capacity. We conclude that the hypothesized immaturity of the neuromuscular system in this model cannot explain the loss of motoneurons by systematic die-back. Abstract: Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a common autosomal recessive disorder in humans and is the leading genetic cause of infantile death. Patients lack the SMN1 gene with the severity of the disease depending on the number of copies of the highly homologous SMN2 gene. Although motoneuron death in the Smn+/− transgenic mouse model of the mildest form of SMA, SMA type III, has been reported, we have used retrograde tracing of sciatic and femoral motoneurons in the hindlimb with recording of muscle and motor unit isometric forces to count the number of motoneurons with intact neuromuscular connections. Thereby, we investigated whether incomplete maturation of the neuromuscular system induced by survival motoneuron protein (SMN) defects is responsible for die-back of axons relative to survival of motoneurons. First, a reduction of ∼30% of backlabelled motoneurons began relatively late, at 11 months of age, with a significant loss of 19% at 7 months. Motor axon die-back was affirmed by motor unit number estimation. Loss of functional motor units was fully compensated by axonal sprouting to retain normal contractile force in four hindlimb muscles (three fast-twitch and one slow-twitch) innervated by branches of the sciatic nerve. Second, our evaluation of whether axotomy of motoneurons in the adult Smn+/− transgenic mouse increases their susceptibility to cell death demonstrated that all the motoneurons survived and they sustained their capacity to regenerate their nerve fibres. It is concluded the systematic die-back of motoneurons that innervate both fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibres is not related to immaturity of the neuromuscular system in SMA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1815-1829
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • motoneuron counts
  • motor units
  • Smn III transgenic mice +/−
  • spinal muscular atrophy


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