An expanded and unstable CAG repeat in the coding region of the MJD1 gene is the mutation responsible for spinocerebellar ataxia 3/Machado-Joseph disease. In order to determine whether there was a higher degree of instability in affected regions, the size of the expanded CAG repeat was analyzed in different regions of the central nervous system, in two unrelated SCA3/MJD patients. The degree of somatic mosaicism was quantified and compared to that in a SCA1 patient. Instability of the expanded CAG repeat was observed in peripheral tissues as well as in CNS of the three patients, but there was no correlation between the degree of mosaicism and the selective vulnerability of CNS structures. As in the other diseases caused by expanded CAG repeats, a lower degree of mosaicism was found in the cerebellar cortex of both SCA1 and SCA3/MJD patients, probably reflecting specific properties of this structure. In SCA3/MJD, the degree of mosaicism seemed to correlate with age at death rather than with the size of the expanded CAG repeat. Finally, somatic instability was more pronounced in SCA1 than in SCA3/MJD patients. Hum Mutat 11:23–27, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.