Purpose of review: The term 'cerebellar ataxias' encompasses the various cerebellar disorders encountered during daily practice. Patients exhibit a cerebellar syndrome and can also present with pigmentary retinopathy, extrapyramidal movement disorders, pyramidal signs, cortical symptoms (seizures, cognitive impairment/behavioural symptoms), and peripheral neuropathy. The clinical diagnosis of subtypes of ataxias is complicated by the salient overlap of the phenotypes between genetic subtypes. The identification of the causative mutations of many hereditary ataxias and the development of relevant animal models bring hope for effective therapies in neurodegenerative ataxias.
Recent findings: We describe the current classification of cerebellar ataxias and underline the recent discoveries in molecular pathogenesis. Cerebellar disorders can be divided into sporadic forms and inherited diseases. Inherited ataxias include autosomal recessive cerebellar ataxias, autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxias/spinocerebellar ataxia) and episodic ataxias, and X-linked ataxias. From a motor control point of view, the leading theories of ataxia are based on neural representations or 'internal models' to emulate fundamental natural processes such as body motion.
Summary: Recent molecular advances have direct implications for research and daily practice. We provide a framework for the diagnosis of ataxias. For the first time, the therapeutic agents under investigation are targeted to deleterious pathways.