Nucleic acids research

Combined deficiency of Senataxin and DNA-PKcs causes DNA damage accumulation and neurodegeneration in spinal muscular atrophy.

PMID 30010942


Chronic low levels of survival motor neuron (SMN) protein cause spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). SMN is ubiquitously expressed, but the mechanisms underlying predominant neuron degeneration in SMA are poorly understood. We report that chronic low levels of SMN cause Senataxin (SETX)-deficiency, which results in increased RNA-DNA hybrids (R-loops) and DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), and deficiency of DNA-activated protein kinase-catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs), which impairs DSB repair. Consequently, DNA damage accumulates in patient cells, SMA mice neurons and patient spinal cord tissues. In dividing cells, DSBs are repaired by homologous recombination (HR) and non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) pathways, but neurons predominantly use NHEJ, which relies on DNA-PKcs activity. In SMA dividing cells, HR repairs DSBs and supports cellular proliferation. In SMA neurons, DNA-PKcs-deficiency causes defects in NHEJ-mediated repair leading to DNA damage accumulation and neurodegeneration. Restoration of SMN levels rescues SETX and DNA-PKcs deficiencies and DSB accumulation in SMA neurons and patient cells. Moreover, SETX overexpression in SMA neurons reduces R-loops and DNA damage, and rescues neurodegeneration. Our findings identify combined deficiency of SETX and DNA-PKcs stemming downstream of SMN as an underlying cause of DSBs accumulation, genomic instability and neurodegeneration in SMA and suggest SETX as a potential therapeutic target for SMA.

Related Materials