The voltage-dependent potassium channel subunit Kv3.3 is expressed at high levels in cerebellar Purkinje cells, in auditory brainstem nuclei and in many other neurons capable of firing at high rates. In the cerebellum, it helps to shape the very characteristic complex spike of Purkinje cells. Kv3.3 differs from other closely related channels in that human mutations in the gene encoding Kv3.3 (KCNC3) result in a unique neurodegenerative disease termed spinocerebellar ataxia type 13 (SCA13). This primarily affects the cerebellum, but also results in extracerebellar symptoms. Different mutations produce either early onset SCA13, associated with delayed motor and impaired cognitive skill acquisition, or late onset SCA13, which typically produces cerebellar degeneration in middle age. This review covers the localization and physiological function of Kv3.3 in the central nervous system and how the normal function of the channel is altered by the disease-causing mutations. It also describes experimental approaches that are being used to understand how Kv3.3 mutations are linked to neuronal survival, and to develop strategies for treatment.