Transgenic mice carrying the spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) gene, a polyglutamine neurodegenerative disorder, develop ataxia with ataxin-1 localized to aggregates within cerebellar Purkinje cells nuclei. To examine the importance of nuclear localization and aggregation in pathogenesis, mice expressing ataxin-1 with a mutated NLS were established. These mice did not develop disease, demonstrating that nuclear localization is critical for pathogenesis. In a second series of transgenic mice, ataxin-1 containing a deletion within the self-association region was expressed within Purkinje cells nuclei. These mice developed ataxia and Purkinje cell pathology similar to the original SCA1 mice. However, no evidence of nuclear ataxin-1 aggregates was found. Thus, although nuclear localization of ataxin-1 is necessary, nuclear aggregation of ataxin-1 is not required to initiate pathogenesis in transgenic mice.