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Cerebral causes and consequences of parkinsonian resting tremor: a tale of two circuits?

Cerebral causes and consequences of parkinsonian resting tremor: a tale of two circuits?
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Brain Volume 135 Issue 12
Open Access

November 2012
Helmich RC, Hallett M, Deuschl G, Toni I, Bloem BR


Tremor in Parkinson's disease has several mysterious features. Clinically, tremor is seen in only three out of four patients with Parkinson's disease, and tremor-dominant patients generally follow a more benign disease course than non-tremor patients.

Pathophysiologically, tremor is linked to altered activity in not one, but two distinct circuits: the basal ganglia, which are primarily affected by dopamine depletion in Parkinson's disease, and the cerebello-thalamo-cortical circuit, which is also involved in many other tremors.

The purpose of this review is to integrate these clinical and pathophysiological features of tremor in Parkinson's disease. We first describe clinical and pathological differences between tremor-dominant and non-tremor Parkinson's disease subtypes, and then summarize recent studies on the pathophysiology of tremor. We also discuss a newly proposed ‘dimmer-switch model’ that explains tremor as resulting from the combined actions of two circuits: the basal ganglia that trigger tremor episodes and the cerebello-thalamo-cortical circuit that produces the tremor.

Finally, we address several important open questions: why resting tremor stops during voluntary movements, why it has a variable response to dopaminergic treatment, why it indicates a benign Parkinson's disease subtype and why its expression decreases with disease progression.