J Genet Med.  2007 Jun;4(1):22-37.

Spinocerebellar ataxia 7 (SCA7)

  • 1Department of Medical Genetics, School of Medicine, Ajou University, Suwon, Korea. jeongsy@ajou.ac.kr


The autosomal dominant spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) are a group of neurodegenerative diseases, clinically and genetically heterogeneous, characterized by degeneration of spinocerebellar pathways with variable involvement of other neural systems. At present, 27 distinct genetic forms of SCAs are known: SCA1-8, SCA10-21, SCA23, SCA25-28, DRPLA (dentatorubral-pallidoluysian atrophy), and 16q-liked ADCA (autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia). Epidemiological data about the prevalence of SCAs are restricted to a few studies of isolated geographical regions, and most do not reflect the real occurrence of the disease. In general a prevalence of about 0.3-2 cases per 100,000 people is assumed. As SCA are highly heterogeneous, the prevalence of specific subtypes varies between different ethnic and continental populations. Most recent data suggest that SCA3 is the commonest subtype worldwide; SCA1, SCA2, SCA6, SCA7, and SCA8 have a prevalence of over 2%, and the remaining SCAs are thought to be rare (prevalence <1%). In this review, we highlight and discuss the SCA7. The hallmark of SCA7 is the association of hereditary ataxia and visual loss caused by pigmentary macular degeneration. Visual failure is progressive, bilateral and symmetrical, and leads irreversibly to blindness. This association represents a distinct disease entity classified as autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia (ADCA) type II by Harding. The disease affectsprimarily the cerebellum and the retina by the moderate to severe neuronal loss and gliosis, but also many other central nervous system structures as the disease progresses. SCA7 is caused by expansion of an unstable trinucleotide CAG repeat in the ATXN7 gene encoding a polyglutamine (polyQ) tract in the corresponding protein, ataxin-7. Normal ATXN7 alleles contain 4-35 CAG repeats, whereas pathological alleles contain from 36->450 CAG repeats. Immunoblott analysis demonstrated that ataxin-7 is widely expressed but that expression levels vary among tissues. Instability of expanded repeats is more pronounced in SCA7 than in other SCA subtypes and can cause substantial lowering of age at onset in successive generations termed 'anticipation' so that children may become diseased even before their parents develop symptoms. The strong anticipation in SCA7 and the rarity of contractions should have led to its extinction within a few generations. There is no specific drug therapy for this neurodegenerative disorder. Currently, therapy remains purely symptomatic. Cellular models and SCA7 transgenic mice have been generated which constitute valuable resources for studying the disease mechanism. Understanding the pathogenetic mechanisms of neurodegeneration in SCAs should lead to the identification of potential therapeutic targets and ultimately facilitate drug discovery. Here we summarize the clinical, pathological, and genetic aspects of SCA7, and review the current understanding of the pathogenesis of this disorder. Further, we also review the potential therapeutic strategies that are currently being explored in polyglutamine diseases.


Spinocerebellar ataxias; Autosomal dominant; SCA7; Ataxin-7; CAG repeat
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