Enhancing GABAergic transmission improves locomotion in a caenorhabditis elegans model of spinal muscular atrophy

Chia Yen Wu, David A. Gagnon, Juliette S. Sardin, Urva Barot, Alex Telenson, Paulo E. Arratia, Robert Gordon Kalb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disease characterized by degeneration of spinal motor neurons resulting in variable degrees of muscular wasting and weakness. It is caused by a loss-of-function mutation in the survival motor neuron (SMN1) gene. Caenorhabditis elegans mutants lacking SMN recapitulate several aspects of the disease including impaired movement and shorted life span. We examined whether genes previously implicated in life span extension conferred benefits to C. elegans lacking SMN. We find that reducing daf-2/insulin receptor signaling activity promotes survival and improves locomotor behavior in this C. elegans model of SMA. The locomotor dysfunction in C. elegans lacking SMN correlated with structural and functional abnormalities in GABAergic neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). Moreover, we demonstrated that reduction in daf-2 signaling reversed these abnormalities. Remarkably, enhancing GABAergic neurotransmission alone was able to correct the locomotor dysfunction. Our work indicated that an imbalance of excitatory/inhibitory activity within motor circuits and underlies motor system dysfunction in this SMA model. Interventions aimed at restoring the balance of excitatory/inhibitory activity in motor circuits could be of benefit to individuals with SMA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0289-18.2018
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Aging
  • FOXO transcription factor
  • Neuromuscular junction
  • SMN protein
  • Suppressor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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