Autosomal dominant spinocerebellar ataxias (SCA) form a group of clinically and genetically heterogeneous neurodegenerative disorders. The defect responsible for SCA3/Machado-Joseph disease (MJD) has been identified as an unstable and expanded (CAG)n trinucleotide repeat in the coding region of a novel gene of unknown function. The MJD1 gene product, ataxin-3, exists in several isoforms. We generated polyclonal antisera against an alternate carboxy terminus of ataxin-3. This isoform, ataxin-3c, is expressed as a protein of approximately 42 kDa in normal individuals but is significantly enlarged in affected patients confirming that the CAG repeat is part of the ataxin-3c isoform and is translated into a polyglutamine stretch, a feature common to all known CAG repeat disorders. Ataxin-3 like immunoreactivity was observed in all human brain regions and peripheral organs studied. In neuronal cells of control individuals, ataxin-3c was expressed cytoplasmatically and had a somatodendritic and axonal distribution. In SCA3 patients, however, C-terminal ataxin-3c antibodies as well as antiataxin-3 monoclonal antibodies (1H9) and anti-ubiquitin antibodies detected intranuclear inclusions (NIs) in neuronal cells of affected brain regions. A monoclonal antibody, 2B6, directed against an internal part of the protein, barely detected these NIs implying proteolytic cleavage of ataxin-3 prior to its transport into the nucleus. These findings provide evidence that the alternate isoform of ataxin-3 is involved in the pathogenesis of SCA3/MJD. Intranuclear protein aggregates appear as a common feature of neurodegenerative polyglutamine disorders.