Alteration of correct splicing patterns by disruption of an exonic splicing enhancer may be a frequent mechanism by which point mutations cause genetic diseases. Spinal muscular atrophy results from the lack of functional survival of motor neuron 1 gene (SMN1), even though all affected individuals carry a nearly identical, normal SMN2 gene. SMN2 is only partially active because a translationally silent, single-nucleotide difference in exon 7 causes exon skipping. Using ESE motif-prediction tools, mutational analysis and in vivo and in vitro splicing assays, we show that this single-nucleotide change occurs within a heptamer motif of an exonic splicing enhancer, which in SMN1 is recognized directly by SF2/ASF. The abrogation of the SF2/ASF-dependent ESE is the basis for inefficient inclusion of exon 7 in SMN2, resulting in the spinal muscular atrophy phenotype.
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