The spinocerebellar ataxias type 1 (SCA1), 2 (SCA2), 3 (SCA3), 6 (SCA6) and 7 (SCA7) are genetically defined autosomal dominantly inherited progressive cerebellar ataxias (ADCAs). They belong to the group of CAG-repeat or polyglutamine diseases and share pathologically expanded and meiotically unstable glutamine-encoding CAG-repeats at distinct gene loci encoding elongated polyglutamine stretches in the disease proteins. In recent years, progress has been made in the understanding of the pathogenesis of these currently incurable diseases: Identification of underlying genetic mechanisms made it possible to classify the different ADCAs and to define their clinical and pathological features. Furthermore, advances in molecular biology yielded new insights into the physiological and pathophysiological role of the gene products of SCA1, SCA2, SCA3, SCA6 and SCA7 (i.e. ataxin-1, ataxin-2, ataxin-3, α-1A subunit of the P/Q type voltage-dependent calcium channel, ataxin-7). In the present review we summarize our current knowledge about the polyglutamine ataxias SCA1, SCA2, SCA3, SCA6 and SCA7 and compare their clinical and electrophysiological features, genetic and molecular biological background, as well as their brain pathologies. Furthermore, we provide an overview of the structure, interactions and functions of the different disease proteins. On the basis of these comprehensive data, similarities, differences and possible disease mechanisms are discussed.
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