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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 2

(often shortened to SCA2)
Reviewed February 2011

What is SCA2?

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 (SCA2) is a condition characterized by progressive problems with movement. People with this condition initially experience problems with coordination and balance (ataxia). Other early signs and symptoms of SCA2 include speech and swallowing difficulties, rigidity, tremors, and weakness in the muscles that control eye movement (ophthalmoplegia). Eye muscle weakness leads to a decreased ability to make rapid eye movements (saccadic slowing).

Over time, individuals with SCA2 may develop loss of sensation and weakness in the limbs (peripheral neuropathy), muscle wasting (atrophy), uncontrolled muscle tensing (dystonia), and involuntary jerking movements (chorea). Individuals with SCA2 may have problems with short term memory, planning, and problem solving, or experience an overall decline in intellectual function (dementia).

Signs and symptoms of the disorder typically begin in mid-adulthood but can appear anytime from childhood to late adulthood. People with SCA2 usually survive 10 to 20 years after symptoms first appear.

How common is SCA2?

The prevalence of SCA2 is unknown. This condition is estimated to be one of the most common types of spinocerebellar ataxia; however, all types of spinocerebellar ataxia are relatively rare. SCA2 is more common in Cuba, particularly in the Holguín province, where approximately 40 per 100,000 individuals are affected.

What genes are related to SCA2?

Mutations in the ATXN2 gene cause SCA2. The ATXN2 gene provides instructions for making a protein called ataxin-2. This protein is found throughout the body, but its function is unknown. Ataxin-2 is found in the fluid inside cells (cytoplasm), where it appears to interact with a cell structure called the endoplasmic reticulum. The endoplasmic reticulum is involved in protein production, processing, and transport. Researchers believe that ataxin-2 may be involved in processing RNA, a chemical cousin of DNA. Ataxin-2 is also thought to play a role in the production of proteins from RNA (translation of DNA's genetic information).

The ATXN2 gene mutations that cause SCA2 involve a DNA segment known as a CAG trinucleotide repeat. This segment is made up of a series of three DNA building blocks (cytosine, adenine, and guanine) that appear multiple times in a row. Normally, the CAG segment is repeated approximately 22 times within the gene, but it can be repeated up to 31 times without causing any health problems. Individuals with 32 or more CAG repeats in the ATXN2 gene develop SCA2. People with 32 or 33 repeats tend to first experience signs and symptoms of SCA2 in late adulthood, while people with more than 45 repeats usually have signs and symptoms by their teens.

It is unclear how the abnormally long CAG segment affects the function of the ataxin-2 protein. The abnormal protein apparently leads to cell death, as people with SCA2 show loss of brain cells in different parts of the brain. Over time, the loss of brain cells causes the movement problems characteristic of SCA2.

Related Gene(s)

Changes in this gene are associated with spinocerebellar ataxia type 2.

  • ATXN2

How do people inherit SCA2?

This condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder. An affected person usually inherits the altered gene from one affected parent. However, some people with SCA2 do not have a parent with the disorder. Individuals who have an increase in the number of CAG repeats in the ATXN2 gene, but do not develop SCA2, are at risk of having children who will develop the disorder.

As the altered ATXN2 gene is passed down from one generation to the next, the length of the CAG trinucleotide repeat often increases. A larger number of repeats is usually associated with an earlier onset of signs and symptoms. This phenomenon is called anticipation. Anticipation tends to be more prominent when the ATXN2 gene is inherited from a person's father (paternal inheritance) than when it is inherited from a person's mother (maternal inheritance).

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of SCA2?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of SCA2 and may include treatment providers.

  • Gene Review: Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 2 (
  • Genetic Testing Registry: Spinocerebellar ataxia 2 (

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of SCA2 in Educational resources and Patient support.

General information about the diagnosis ( and management ( of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing (, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests (

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about SCA2?

You may find the following resources about SCA2 helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What if I still have specific questions about SCA2?

Ask the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (

What glossary definitions help with understanding SCA2?

adenine ; anticipation ; ataxia ; atrophy ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; cell ; chorea ; cytoplasm ; cytosine ; dementia ; DNA ; dystonia ; endoplasmic reticulum ; gene ; guanine ; inheritance ; inherited ; involuntary ; maternal ; maternal inheritance ; neuropathy ; ophthalmoplegia ; peripheral ; peripheral neuropathy ; prevalence ; protein ; RNA ; translation ; trinucleotide repeat ; wasting

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.


  • Almaguer-Mederos LE, Falcón NS, Almira YR, Zaldivar YG, Almarales DC, Góngora EM, Herrera MP, Batallán KE, Armiñán RR, Manresa MV, Cruz GS, Laffita-Mesa J, Cyuz TM, Chang V, Auburger G, Gispert S, Pérez LV. Estimation of the age at onset in spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 Cuban patients by survival analysis. Clin Genet. 2010 Aug;78(2):169-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2009.01358.x. Epub 2009 Dec 2. (
  • Lastres-Becker I, Rüb U, Auburger G. Spinocerebellar ataxia 2 (SCA2). Cerebellum. 2008;7(2):115-24. doi: 10.1007/s12311-008-0019-y. Review. (
  • Mederos LE, Proenza CL, Almira YR, Batallán KE, Falcón NS, Góngora EM, Almarales DC, Pérez LV, Herrera MP. Age-dependent risks in genetic counseling for spinocerebellar ataxia type 2. Clin Genet. 2008 Dec;74(6):571-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2008.01073.x. Epub 2008 Aug 18. (
  • Velázquez Pérez L, Cruz GS, Santos Falcón N, Enrique Almaguer Mederos L, Escalona Batallan K, Rodríguez Labrada R, Paneque Herrera M, Laffita Mesa JM, Rodríguez Díaz JC, Rodríguez RA, González Zaldivar Y, Coello Almarales D, Almaguer Gotay D, Jorge Cedeño H. Molecular epidemiology of spinocerebellar ataxias in Cuba: insights into SCA2 founder effect in Holguin. Neurosci Lett. 2009 Apr 24;454(2):157-60. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.015. Epub 2009 Mar 11. (
  • Velázquez-Perez L, Rodríguez-Labrada R, Canales-Ochoa N, Sanchez-Cruz G, Fernandez-Ruiz J, Montero JM, Aguilera-Rodríguez R, Diaz R, Almaguer-Mederos LE, Truitz AP. Progression markers of Spinocerebellar ataxia 2. A twenty years neurophysiological follow up study. J Neurol Sci. 2010 Mar 15;290(1-2):22-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2009.12.013. Epub 2010 Jan 12. (


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Reviewed: February 2011
Published: February 8, 2016