SV40 T antigen (Tag) expression directed to cerebellar Purkinje cells resulted in the generation of three transgenic mouse lines that displayed ataxia, a neurological phenotype characteristic of cerebellar dysfunction. Onset of symptoms and cerebellar pathology, characterized by specific Purkinje cell degeneration, appeared to be directly dependent upon transgene copy number. The SV5 line (containing > 30 transgene copies), exhibited embryonic transgene expression that caused selective death of immature Purkinje cells and a subsequent block in cerebellar development and ataxia at 2 weeks. The developmental effect of the disruption of Purkinje cells in SV5 mice suggests that a normal complement of these cells is required for early development of the cerebellar cortex, especially granule cell proliferation and migration from external to internal layers. Transgene expression in a second line, SV4 (10 copies), was detectable during the second postnatal week. Death of mature Purkinje cells in the SV4 line resulted in onset of ataxia at 9 weeks. Ataxia in a third line, SV6 (2 copies), was detected after 15 weeks. The distinct cerebellar phenotypes of the SV4-6 lines correlate with specific Tag-induced Purkinje cell ablation as opposed to tumorigenesis.