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Label-free proteomics identifies Calreticulin and GRP75/Mortalin as peripherally accessible protein biomarkers for spinal muscular atrophy

Chantal A Mutsaers12, Douglas J Lamont3, Gillian Hunter12, Thomas M Wishart14 and Thomas H Gillingwater12*

Author Affiliations

1 Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH8 9XD, UK

2 Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh, Hugh Robson Building, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9XD, UK

3 'FingerPrints’ Proteomics Facility, College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD1 5EH, UK

4 Division of Neurobiology, The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH25 9RG, UK

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Genome Medicine 2013, 5:95  doi:10.1186/gm498

Published: 18 October 2013



Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disease resulting from mutations in the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene. Recent breakthroughs in preclinical research have highlighted several potential novel therapies for SMA, increasing the need for robust and sensitive clinical trial platforms for evaluating their effectiveness in human patient cohorts. Given that most clinical trials for SMA are likely to involve young children, there is a need for validated molecular biomarkers to assist with monitoring disease progression and establishing the effectiveness of therapies being tested. Proteomics technologies have recently been highlighted as a potentially powerful tool for such biomarker discovery.


We utilized label-free proteomics to identify individual proteins in pathologically-affected skeletal muscle from SMA mice that report directly on disease status. Quantitative fluorescent western blotting was then used to assess whether protein biomarkers were robustly changed in muscle, skin and blood from another mouse model of SMA, as well as in a small cohort of human SMA patient muscle biopsies.


By comparing the protein composition of skeletal muscle in SMA mice at a pre-symptomatic time-point with the muscle proteome at a late-symptomatic time-point we identified increased expression of both Calreticulin and GRP75/Mortalin as robust indicators of disease progression in SMA mice. We report that these protein biomarkers were consistently modified in different mouse models of SMA, as well as across multiple skeletal muscles, and were also measurable in skin biopsies. Furthermore, Calreticulin and GRP75/Mortalin were measurable in muscle biopsy samples from human SMA patients.


We conclude that label-free proteomics technology provides a powerful platform for biomarker identification in SMA, revealing Calreticulin and GRP75/Mortalin as peripherally accessible protein biomarkers capable of reporting on disease progression in samples of muscle and skin.