Spinal motor neuron loss occurs through a p53-and-p21-independent mechanism in the Smn2B/− mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy

Emily J. Reedich, Martin Kalski, Nicholas Armijo, Gregory A. Cox, Christine J. DiDonato*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a pediatric neuromuscular disease caused by genetic deficiency of the survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. Pathological hallmarks of SMA are spinal motor neuron loss and skeletal muscle atrophy. The molecular mechanisms that elicit and drive preferential motor neuron degeneration and death in SMA remain unclear. Transcriptomic studies consistently report p53 pathway activation in motor neurons and spinal cord tissue of SMA mice. Recent work has identified p53 as an inducer of spinal motor neuron loss in severe Δ7 SMA mice. Additionally, the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor P21 (Cdkn1a), an inducer of cell cycle arrest and mediator of skeletal muscle atrophy, is consistently increased in motor neurons, spinal cords, and other tissues of various SMA models. p21 is a p53 transcriptional target but can be independently induced by cellular stressors. To ascertain whether p53 and p21 signaling pathways mediate spinal motor neuron death in milder SMA mice, and how they affect the overall SMA phenotype, we introduced Trp53 and P21 null alleles onto the Smn2B/− background. We found that p53 and p21 depletion did not modulate the timing or degree of Smn2B/− motor neuron loss as evaluated using electrophysiological and immunohistochemical methods. Moreover, we determined that Trp53 and P21 knockout differentially affected Smn2B/− mouse lifespan: p53 ablation impaired survival while p21 ablation extended survival through Smn-independent mechanisms. These results demonstrate that p53 and p21 are not primary drivers of spinal motor neuron death in Smn2B/− mice, a milder SMA mouse model, as motor neuron loss is not alleviated by their ablation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113587
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Motor neuron
  • Mouse
  • Smn
  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)
  • Survival motor neuron (SMN)
  • p21 (cdkn1a)
  • p53

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Spinal motor neuron loss occurs through a p53-and-p21-independent mechanism in the Smn<sup>2B/−</sup> mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this