Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is pathologically characterized by degeneration of anterior horn cells. Recent observations in animal models of SMA and muscle tissue from patients with SMA suggest additional abnormalities in the development and maturation of the neuromuscular junction. We therefore evaluated neuromuscular junction function in SMA with repetitive nerve stimulation. In this case-control study, repetitive nerve stimulation was performed in 35 patients with SMA types 2, 3, and 4, 20 healthy controls, and 5 controls with motor neuron disease. Pathologic decremental responses (>10%) during 3-Hz repetitive nerve stimulation were observed in 17 of 35 patients (49%) with SMA types 2 and 3, but not in healthy controls or controls with motor neuron disease. None of the patients or controls had an abnormal incremental response of >60%. The presence of an abnormal decremental response was not specific for the type of SMA, nor was it associated with compound muscle action potential amplitude, clinical scores, or disease duration. Two of 4 patients with SMA type 3 who tried pyridostigmine reported increased stamina. These data suggest dysfunction of the neuromuscular junction in patients with SMA types 2 and 3. Therefore, drugs that facilitate neuromuscular transmission are candidate drugs for evaluation in carefully designed, placebo-controlled, clinical trials.
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