Using a molecular diagnostic approach, we investigated 101 kindreds with autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxias (ADCAs) from the central Honshu island of Japan, including spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1), spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2), Machado-Joseph disease (MJD), dentatorubral and pallidoluysian atrophy (DRPLA) and spinocerebellar ataxia type 6 (SCA6). In our unselected series, MJD was the most common type of ADCA, accounting for 33.7% followed by DRPLA (19.8%), SCA2 (5.9%) and SCA6 (5.9%). No SCA1 mutations were identified. We analysed the clinical features of six molecular confirmed SCA6 kindreds: in each family, there was an expanded allele in the alpha1A-voltage dependent calcium channel comprising between 23 and 25 CAG repeats. The mean age at onset of symptoms was 43+/-13 years. The clinical features consisted predominantly of cerebellar ataxia, dysarthria and horizontal nystagmus, which was generally consistent with ADCA type 3. However several new clinical features were found in some patients: dramatic anticipation, rapid disease progression, severe ataxia associated with action tremor or action myoclonus, and very early onset, which are not described as the classical features of ADCA type 3.