Spinal muscular atrophy research
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In 1978 Pearn published a series of papers on SMA. He reported that childhood onset SMA is not an uncommon disease and has an incidence in the Northern UK in range of 4 per 100,000 births. At that time the association between the severe infantile form of SMA and the milder forms was not understood. With the advantage of knowledge about the causative gene, it is now known that SMA1, SMA2 and SMA3 are all caused by mutations in the same gene. The overall incidence of SMA, of all types, is in the range of 1 per 6,000 individual. It affects individuals of all races, unlike other well known autosomal recessive disorders like sickle cell disease, and cystic fibrosis, that have significant differences in occurrence rate between races. Overall, SMA1 is the most common genetic cause of death in infants.
The autosomal recessive versions of SMA are caused by inheritance of a mutated gene from each parent, who would not know that they have the abnormal gene because having only one mutated copy produces no symptoms. Once a child is affected, each subsequent baby has a 25% chance of having the illness. If a sibling does not inherit the disorder, he or she has a 2/3 chance of being a carrier.
On the other hand, X-linked infantile SMA is passed from mothers only to sons. Sons have a 50% chance of inheriting the defective gene from a mother who is a carrier and suffering the disease, while daughters have a 50% chance of becoming carriers without symptoms themselves. Couples may want to have genetic counseling before deciding to have more children. Counseling is available to these families through the community.
In 1990 mapping of the gene for SMA to chromosome 5q11.2-13.3 was reported and culminated in a 3 year research funded in part by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The findings were also confirmed by French researchers. The identification of the gene for autosomal recessive SMA on chromosome 5q has allowed for prenatal diagnosis. Families who are at risk, or who have had a child with the diagnosis can have an amniocentesis done during pregnancy for DNA testing.