Identification of a battery of tests for drug candidate evaluation in the SMNΔ7 neonate model of spinal muscular atrophy

Bassem F. El-Khodor, Nicole Edgar, Angela Chen, Margaret L. Winberg, Cynthia Joyce, Daniela Brunner, Mayte Suárez-Fariñas, Melvyn P. Heyes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is characterized by selective loss of α-motor neurons and is caused by homozygous loss or mutation in the survival motor neuron (SMN1) gene. Loss of SMN1 is partially compensated by the copy gene, SMN2. Currently, there are no specific treatments for SMA. Key features of SMA are modeled in mice by deletion of murine Smn, and insertion of both full length human SMN2 gene and the major aberrant splice isoform of the SMN2 gene (SMNΔ7; [Le, T.T., Pham, L.T., Butchbach, M.E., Zhang, H.L., Monani, U.R., Coovert, D.D., Gavrilina, T.O., Xing, L., Bassell, G.J., and Burghes, A.H. 2005. SMNDelta7, the major product of the centromeric survival motor neuron (SMN2) gene, extends survival in mice with spinal muscular atrophy and associates with full-length SMN. Hum Mol Genet 14: 845-857]). The present study identified moderate-throughput, quantitative behavioral tests in neonatal SMN2+/+;SMNΔ7+/+;Smn-/- mice. It also addresses methodological approaches and common interpretational challenges in a neonatal model with motor deficiencies and frequent deaths. Animals were assessed daily for body weight and survival, and every other day for neonatal well-being indices and tests of motor function such as performance on the hind-limb suspension test (a.k.a. tube test) and geotaxis. The tube test is a novel non-invasive motor function test specifically designed for neonatal rodents. We found progressive deterioration in SMA model mice for most measures studied particularly body weight, survival, body temperature and motor function with differences appearing as early as P3. Power analysis showed that body weight, survival, righting reflex, geotaxis and tube test had highest predictive power for drug efficacy studies. This multi-functional component battery of tests provides a rapid and efficient means to identify, evaluate and develop candidate therapies as a prelude to human clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-43
Number of pages15
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug screening
  • Moderate-throughput
  • Motor neuron disease
  • Mouse genetic model
  • Neonate
  • Novel motor test
  • Phenotyping
  • Preclinical development
  • Tube test


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