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PloS One


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is caused by defects in the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene that encodes survival motor neuron (SMN) protein. The majority of therapeutic approaches currently in clinical development for SMA aim to increase SMN protein expression and there is a need for sensitive methods able to quantify increases in SMN protein levels in accessible tissues. We have developed a sensitive electrochemiluminescence (ECL)-based immunoassay for measuring SMN protein in whole blood with a minimum volume requirement of 5μL. The SMN-ECL immunoassay enables accurate measurement of SMN in whole blood and other tissues. Using the assay, we measured SMN protein in whole blood from SMA patients and healthy controls and found that SMN protein levels were associated with SMN2 copy number and were greater in SMA patients with 4 copies, relative to those with 2 and 3 copies. SMN protein levels did not vary significantly in healthy individuals over a four-week period and were not affected by circadian rhythms. Almost half of the SMN protein was found in platelets. We show that SMN protein levels in C/C-allele mice, which model a mild form of SMA, were high in neonatal stage, decreased in the first few weeks after birth, and then remained stable throughout the adult stage. Importantly, SMN protein levels in the CNS correlated with SMN levels measured in whole blood of the C/C-allele mice. These findings have implications for the measurement of SMN protein induction in whole blood in response to SMN-upregulating therapy.