Proximal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality. Traditionally, SMA has been described as a motor neuron disease; however, there is a growing body of evidence that arrhythmia and/or cardiomyopathy may present in SMA patients at an increased frequency. Here, we ask whether SMA model mice possess such phenotypes. We find SMA mice suffer from severe bradyarrhythmia characterized by progressive heart block and impaired ventricular depolarization. Echocardiography further confirms functional cardiac deficits in SMA mice. Additional investigations show evidence of both sympathetic innervation defects and dilated cardiomyopathy at late stages of disease. Based upon these data, we propose a model in which decreased sympathetic innervation causes autonomic imbalance. Such imbalance would be characterized by a relative increase in the level of vagal tone controlling heart rate, which is consistent with bradyarrhythmia and progressive heart block. Finally, treatment with the histone deacetylase inhibitor trichostatin A, a drug known to benefit phenotypes of SMA model mice, produces prolonged maturation of the SMA heartbeat and an increase in cardiac size. Treated mice maintain measures of motor function throughout extended survival though they ultimately reach death endpoints in association with a progression of bradyarrhythmia. These data represent the novel identification of cardiac arrhythmia as an early and progressive feature of murine SMA while providing several new, quantitative indices of mouse health. Together with clinical cases that report similar symptoms, this reveals a new area of investigation that will be important to address as we move SMA therapeutics towards clinical success.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology