The aim of this paper is to carry out a historical overview of the evolution of the knowledge on degenerative cerebellar disorders and hereditary spastic paraplegias, over the last century and a half. Original descriptions of the main pathological subtypes, including Friedreich's ataxia, hereditary spastic paraplegia, olivopontocerebellar atrophy and cortical cerebellar atrophy, are revised. Special attention is given to the first accurate description of striatonigral degeneration by Hans Joachim Scherer, his personal and scientific trajectory being clarified. Pathological classifications of ataxia are critically analysed. The current clinical-genetic classification of ataxia is updated by taking into account recent molecular discoveries. The authors conclude that there has been an enormous progress in the knowledge of the nosology of hereditary ataxias and paraplegias, currently encompassing around 200 genetic subtypes.

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