A total of 104 patients with sporadic cerebellar ataxia were tested for antigliadin and antiendomysium antibodies. Twelve individuals (11.5%) with gluten sensitivity underwent duodenal biopsy and extensive clinical, electrophysiological, neuropsychological, radiological and laboratory investigations including human leucocyte antigen (HLA) typing. Two patients showed typical changes of gluten-sensitive enteropathy with crypt hyperplasia and mucosal flattening. In five patients, the intraepithelial lymphocyte count was elevated. Sporadic ataxia with gluten sensitivity was found to be tightly linked to the HLA DQB1*0201 haplotype (70%). Neurological symptoms were not related to hypovitaminosis or inflammatory CSF changes. The clinical syndrome was dominated by progressive cerebellar ataxia with ataxia of stance and gait (100%), dysarthria (100%) and limb ataxia (97%). Oculomotor abnormalities were gaze-evoked nystagmus (66.7%), spontaneous nystagmus (33.3%), saccade slowing (25%) and upward gaze palsy (16.7%). Extracerebellar features also included deep sensory loss (58.3%), bladder dysfunction (33.3%) and reduced ankle reflexes (33.3%). In accordance with clinical findings, electrophysiological investigations revealed prominent axonal neuropathy with reduced amplitudes (50%) and abnormal evoked potentials (58.3%). On neuropsychological testing, patients presented with moderate verbal memory and executive dysfunction. All patients had evidence of cerebellar atrophy on MRI. We conclude that sporadic ataxia may be associated with positive antibodies against gliadin. Nevertheless, mucosal pathology does not represent an obligatory condition of ataxia with gluten sensitivity. The fact that the disease is strongly associated with the same HLA haplotypes found in coeliac disease not only demonstrates coeliac disease and ataxia with gluten sensitivity to be part of the same disease entity but supports the hypothesis of an immunological pathogenesis of cerebellar degeneration.