Essential Tremor: What We Can Learn from Current Pharmacotherapy

  • William Ondo

Abstract

Background: The pathophysiology of essential tremor, especially at the cellular level, is poorly understood. Although no drug has been specifically designed to treat essential tremor, several medications improve tremor, and others worsen it. Studying the mechanism of actions of these medications can help our understanding of tremor pathophysiology and contribute to future rational drug design.

Methods: We reviewed literature, concentrating on mechanisms of action, of various medications that mitigate tremor.

Results: Many medications have multiple mechanisms of actions, making simple correlations difficult. Medications that increase the duration of opening of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-A receptors are most consistently associated with tremor improvement. Interestingly, drugs that increase GABA availability have not been associated with improved tremor. Other mechanisms possibly associated with tremor improvement include antagonism of alpha-2 delta subunits associated with calcium channels, inhibition of carbonic anhydrase, and inhibition of the synaptic vesicle protein 2A. Drugs that block voltage-gaited sodium channels do not affect tremor. The ideal beta-adrenergic blocker requires B2 affinity (non-cardiac selective), has no sympathomimetic properties, does not require membrane stabilization properties, and may benefit from good central nervous system penetration.

Discussion: To date, serendipitous observations have provided most of our understanding of tremor cellular physiology. Based on similarities to currently effective drugs or rational approximations and inferences, several currently available agents should be considered for tremor trials.