The autosomal recessive neuromuscular disorder proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by the loss or mutation of the survival motor neuron (SMN) gene, which exists in two nearly identical copies, telomeric SMN (telSMN) and centromeric SMN (cenSMN). Exon 7 of the telSMN gene is homozygously absent in ≃95% of SMA patients, whereas loss of cenSMN does not cause SMA. We searched for other telSMN mutations among 23 SMA compound heterozygotes, using heteroduplex analysis. We identified telSMN mutations in 11 of these unrelated SMA-like individuals who carry a single copy of telSMN: these include two frameshift mutations (800ins11 and 542delGT) and three missense mutations (A2G, S262I, and T274I). The telSMN mutations identified to date cluster at the 3' end, in a region containing sites for SMN oligomerization and binding of Sm proteins. Interestingly, the novel A2G missense mutation occurs outside this conserved carboxy-terminal domain, closely upstream of an SIP1 (SMN-interacting protein 1) binding site. In three patients, the A2G mutation was found to be on the same allele as a rare polymorphism in the 5' UTR, providing evidence for a founder chromosome; Ag1- CA marker data also support evidence of an ancestral origin for the 800ins11 and 542delGT mutations. We note that telSMN missense mutations are associated with milder disease in our patients and that the severe type I SMA phenotype caused by frameshift mutations can be ameliorated by an increase in cenSMN gene copy number.
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