Two female patients aged 30 and 40 years with the Charlevoix-Saguenay ataxia were studied. Both had absent sensory action potentials in upper and lower extremities but, unlike typical cases of Friedreich's ataxia, they displayed a marked slowing of motor conduction velocities. Sural nerve biopsies taken from calf and ankle revealed a severe loss of large myelinated axons contrasting with a normal myelinated fiber density. Evidence for active axonal degeneration was scarce, with no indication of axonal regeneration. Teased myelinated fibers revealed an increased variability of internodal length but no evidence for myelin breakdown. These findings support, as a primary defect, a developmental abnormality of peripheral nerve, namely a lack of maturation of large myelinated axons and possibly a faulty myelination of nerve fibers. We think it is unlikely to represent a progressive axonal atrophic or dystrophic process, as suggested in Friedreich's ataxia.