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Spinocerebellar ataxia type 6

(often shortened to SCA6)
Reviewed February 2011

What is SCA6?

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 6 (SCA6) 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 SCA6 include speech difficulties, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus), and double vision. Over time, individuals with SCA6 may develop loss of coordination in their arms, tremors, and uncontrolled muscle tensing (dystonia).

Signs and symptoms of SCA6 typically begin in a person's forties or fifties but can appear anytime from childhood to late adulthood. Most people with this disorder require wheelchair assistance by the time they are in their sixties.

How common is SCA6?

The worldwide prevalence of SCA6 is estimated to be less than 1 in 100,000 individuals.

What genes are related to SCA6?

Mutations in the CACNA1A gene cause SCA6. The CACNA1A gene provides instructions for making a protein that forms a part of some calcium channels. These channels transport positively charged calcium atoms (calcium ions) across cell membranes. The movement of these ions is critical for normal signaling between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. The CACNA1A gene provides instructions for making one part (the alpha-1 subunit) of a calcium channel called CaV2.1. CaV2.1 channels play an essential role in communication between neurons in the brain.

The CACNA1A gene mutations that cause SCA6 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 4 to 18 times within the gene. In people with SCA6, the CAG segment is repeated 20 to 33 times. People with 20 repeats tend to experience signs and symptoms of SCA6 beginning in late adulthood, while people with a larger number of repeats usually have signs and symptoms from mid-adulthood.

An increase in the length of the CAG segment leads to the production of an abnormally long version of the alpha-1 subunit. This version of the subunit alters the location and function of the CaV2.1 channels. Normally the alpha-1 subunit is located within the cell membrane; the abnormal subunit is found in the cell membrane as well as in the fluid inside cells (cytoplasm), where it clusters together and forms clumps (aggregates). The effect these aggregates have on cell functioning is unknown. The lack of normal calcium channels in the cell membrane impairs cell communication between neurons in the brain. Diminished cell communication leads to cell death. Cells within the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that coordinates movement, are particularly sensitive to the accumulation of these aggregates. Over time, a loss of cells in the cerebellum causes the movement problems characteristic of SCA6.

Read more about the CACNA1A gene.

How do people inherit SCA6?

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.

In most cases, an affected person has one parent with the condition.

As the altered CACNA1A gene is passed down from one generation to the next, the length of the CAG trinucleotide repeat often slightly increases. A larger number of repeats is usually associated with an earlier onset of signs and symptoms. This phenomenon is called anticipation.

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of SCA6?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of SCA6 and may include treatment providers.

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of SCA6 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 SCA6?

You may find the following resources about SCA6 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 other names do people use for SCA6?

  • type 6 spinocerebellar ataxia

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines and How are genetic conditions and genes named? in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about SCA6?

Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?

What glossary definitions help with understanding SCA6?

adenine ; anticipation ; ataxia ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; calcium ; cell ; cell membrane ; cerebellum ; channel ; cytoplasm ; cytosine ; DNA ; double vision ; dystonia ; gene ; guanine ; inherited ; involuntary ; ions ; nervous system ; nystagmus ; prevalence ; protein ; subunit ; trinucleotide repeat

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

See also Understanding Medical Terminology.

References (4 links)


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