Pharmacological treatments of cerebellar ataxia

Cerebellum. 2004;3(2):107-11. doi: 10.1080/147342204100032331.


The confirmed pharmacological treatment of cerebellar ataxia is still lacking. In a recent preliminary trial, we showed that D-cycloserine, a partial NMDA allosteric agonist, may relieve the symptoms. In this paper, major clinical trials to relieve ataxic symptoms are reviewed. Previous studies showed some efficacy of physostigmine in ataxic patients. However, physostigmine did not improve the ataxia in a recent double-blind crossover study. The replacement therapy of the deficient cholinergic system with choline or choline derivatives was tried in patients with Friedreich's ataxia and other ataxic patients, but the result was not definitive. A levorotatory form of hydroxytryptophan (a serotonin precursor), a serotoninergic 5-HT1A agonist, a serotoninergic 5-HT3 antagonist, and a serotonin reuptake inhibitor were also used for the therapy for ataxia. In a double-blind randomized study, buspirone, a 5-HT1A agonist was active in cerebellar ataxia, but the effect is partial and not major. The effects of the studies with the other serotoninergic drugs were not consistent. The effect of sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim therapy in spinocerebellar ataxia type3/Machado-Joseph disease (MJD) was reported, although the therapy improved spasticity or rigidity, rather than ataxia. In contrast to previous studies, sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim therapy in MJD had no effect in a 2001 double-blind crossover study. The thyrotropin-releasing hormone, D-cycloserine, and acetazolamide for SCA6 may have some efficacy. However, a well-designed double-blind crossover trial is needed to confirm the effect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebellar Ataxia / drug therapy*
  • Choline / analogs & derivatives
  • Choline / therapeutic use
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cycloserine / therapeutic use*
  • Ergoloid Mesylates / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Physostigmine / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / agonists*
  • Serotonin Agents / therapeutic use
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / therapeutic use


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Serotonin Agents
  • Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination
  • Ergoloid Mesylates
  • Cycloserine
  • Physostigmine
  • Choline
  • acetergamine