Activation of a cryptic 5' splice site reverses the impact of pathogenic splice site mutations in the spinal muscular atrophy gene.Nucleic Acids Res. 2017 Dec 01; 45(21):12214-12240.NA
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by deletions or mutations of the Survival Motor Neuron 1 (SMN1) gene coupled with predominant skipping of SMN2 exon 7. The only approved SMA treatment is an antisense oligonucleotide that targets the intronic splicing silencer N1 (ISS-N1), located downstream of the 5' splice site (5'ss) of exon 7. Here, we describe a novel approach to exon 7 splicing modulation through activation of a cryptic 5'ss (Cr1). We discovered the activation of Cr1 in transcripts derived from SMN1 that carries a pathogenic G-to-C mutation at the first position (G1C) of intron 7. We show that Cr1-activating engineered U1 snRNAs (eU1s) have the unique ability to reprogram pre-mRNA splicing and restore exon 7 inclusion in SMN1 carrying a broad spectrum of pathogenic mutations at both the 3'ss and 5'ss of the exon 7. Employing a splicing-coupled translation reporter, we demonstrate that mRNAs generated by an eU1-induced activation of Cr1 produce full-length SMN. Our findings underscore a wider role for U1 snRNP in splicing regulation and reveal a novel approach for the restoration of SMN exon 7 inclusion for a potential therapy of SMA.