Lower motor neuron (LMN) degeneration occurs in several diseases that affect patients from neonates to elderly and can either be genetically transmitted or occur sporadically. Among diseases involving LMN degeneration, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and spinal bulbar muscular atrophy (Kennedys disease, SBMA) are pure genetic diseases linked to loss of the SMN gene (SMA) or expansion of a polyglutamine tract in the androgen receptor gene (SBMA) while amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can either be of genetic origin or occur sporadically. In this review, our aim is to put forward the hypothesis that muscle fiber atrophy and weakness might not be a simple collateral damage of LMN degeneration, but instead that muscle fibers may be the site of crucial pathogenic events in these diseases. In SMA, the SMN gene was shown to be required for muscle structure and strength as well as for neuromuscular junction formation, and a subset of SMA patients develop myopathic pathology. In SBMA, the occurence of myopathic histopathology in patients and animal models, along with neuromuscular phenotype of animal models expressing the androgen receptor in muscle only has lead to the proposal that SBMA may indeed be a muscle disease. Lastly, in ALS, at least part of the phenotype might be explained by pathogenic events occuring in skeletal muscle. Apart from its potential pathogenic role, skeletal muscle pathophysiological events might be a target for treatments and/or be a preferential route for targeting motor neurons.
Keywords: Motor neuron diseases, skeletal muscle, neuromuscular junction, SMN, androgen receptor, SOD1, LMN degeneration, Spinal muscular atrophy, Genetic diseases, Polyglutamine, Phenotype, SODI, Kennedy's disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Denervation/ reinnervation, Neural agrin, AchR, Congenital myastheniav, Cajal bodies, Exon microarray, mRNA splicing, AchR genes, Androgen dysfunction, Leuprorelin acetate, Rhabdomyolysis, Myopathic features, Riluzole, Hyperlipemia, Follistatin, Myostatin, Synaptopathies