A randomized trial of varenicline (Chantix) for the treatment of spinocerebellar ataxia type 3

Neurology. 2012 Feb 21;78(8):545-50. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318247cc7a. Epub 2012 Feb 8.


Objective: The objective of this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study was to evaluate the efficacy of varenicline (Chantix), a partial agonist at α4β2 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors used for smoking cessation, in patients with spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) 3.

Methods: Patients with genetically confirmed SCA3 were randomly assigned to receive either varenicline (4 weeks for titration and 4 weeks at a dose of 1 mg twice daily) or placebo. Outcome measures included changes in the Scale for the Rating and Assessment of Ataxia (SARA) scores at endpoint (8 weeks) compared with baseline, a timed 25-foot walk and 9-hole peg test, measurements of mood and anxiety, and adverse events.

Results: Twenty patients with SCA3 (mean age = 51 ± 10.98 years; mean disease duration = 14 ± 9.82 years; mean SARA score = 16.13 ± 4.67) were enrolled in the study, and data on 18 patients were analyzed in period I. The most common side effect associated with varenicline was nausea. Improvements were noted in the SARA subsections for gait (p = 0.04), stance (p = 0.03), rapid alternating movements (p = 0.003), and timed 25-foot walk (p = 0.05) and Beck Depression Inventory scores (p = 0.03) in patients taking varenicline compared with those taking placebo at endpoint, with a trend toward improvement in the SARA total score (p = 0.06) in the varenicline group.

Conclusions: In this controlled study, varenicline significantly improved axial symptoms and rapid alternating movements in patients with SCA3 as measured by SARA subscores and was fairly well tolerated.

Classification of evidence: This study provides Class II evidence that varenicline improved the axial functions of gait, stance, and timed 25-foot walk but did not improve appendicular function, except for rapid alternating movements, in adult patients with genetically confirmed SCA3.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Aged
  • Benzazepines / adverse effects
  • Benzazepines / pharmacology
  • Benzazepines / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Gait / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Machado-Joseph Disease / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Nicotinic Agonists / adverse effects
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Quinoxalines / adverse effects
  • Quinoxalines / pharmacology
  • Quinoxalines / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Varenicline


  • Benzazepines
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Quinoxalines
  • Varenicline