Validation of a fast, robust, inexpensive, two-tiered neonatal screening test algorithm on dried blood spots for spinal muscular atrophy

Annuska Strunk, Andre Abbes, Antoine R. Stuitje, Chris Hettinga, Eline M. Sepers, Reinier Snetselaar, Jan Schouten, Fay Lynn Asselman, Inge Cuppen, Henny Lemmink, W. Ludo van der Pol, Henk Engel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is one of the leading genetic causes of infant mortality with an incidence of 1:10,000. The recently-introduced antisense oligonucleotide treatment improves the outcome of this disease, in particular when applied at an early stage of progression. The genetic cause of SMA is, in >95% of cases, a homozygous deletion of the survival motor neuron 1 (SMN1) gene, which makes the low-cost detection of SMA cases as part of newborn screening programs feasible. We developed and validated a new SALSA MC002 melting curve assay that detects the absence of the SMN1 exon 7 DNA sequence without detecting asymptomatic carriers and reliably discriminates SMN1 from its genetic homolog SMN2 using crude extracts from newborn screening cards. Melting curve analysis shows peaks specific for both the SMN1 gene and the disease modifying SMN2 homolog. The detection of the SMN2 homolog, of which the only clinically relevant difference from the SMN1 gene is a single nucleotide in exon 7, was only used to confirm a correct reaction in samples that lacked the SMN1 gene, and not for SMN2 quantification. We retrieved 47 DBS samples from children with genetically-confirmed SMA, after informed consent from parents, and 375 controls from the national archive of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). The assay correctly identified all anonymized and randomized SMA and control samples (i.e., sensitivity and specificity of 100%), without the detection of carriers, on the three most commonly-used PCR platforms with melting curve analysis. This test’s concordance with the second-tier ‘golden standard’ P021 SMA MLPA test was 100%. Using the new P021–B1 version, crude extracts from DBS cards could also be used to determine the SMN2 copy number of SMA patients with a high level of accuracy. The MC002 test showed the feasibility and accuracy of SMA screening in a neonatal screening program.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalInternational Journal of Neonatal Screening
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2019


  • Copy numbers SMN1
  • Melting curve
  • Newborn screening
  • SMA
  • SMN2 gene
  • Two-tiered testing


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