ATP7A is a copper-transporting P-type ATPase that is essential for cellular copper homeostasis. Loss-of-function mutations in the ATP7A gene result in Menkes disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disorder resulting in seizures, hypotonia and failure to thrive, due to systemic copper deficiency. Most recently, rare missense mutations in ATP7A that do not impact systemic copper homeostasis have been shown to cause X-linked spinal muscular atrophy type 3 (SMAX3), a distal hereditary motor neuropathy. An understanding of the mechanistic and pathophysiological basis of SMAX3 is currently lacking, in part because the disease-causing mutations have been shown to confer both loss- and gain-of-function properties to ATP7A, and because there is currently no animal model of the disease. In this study, the Atp7a gene was specifically deleted in the motor neurons of mice, resulting in a degenerative phenotype consistent with the clinical features in affected patients with SMAX3, including the progressive deterioration of gait, age-dependent muscle atrophy, denervation of neuromuscular junctions and a loss of motor neuron cell bodies. Taken together, these data reveal autonomous requirements for ATP7A that reveal essential roles for copper in the maintenance and function of the motor neuron, and suggest that SMAX3 is caused by a loss of ATP7A function that specifically impacts the spinal motor neuron.