Non-invasive Brain Stimulation for Essential Tremor
Background: There is increasing interest in the use of non-invasive brain stimulation to characterize and potentially treat essential tremor (ET). Studies have used a variety of stimulation coils, paradigms, and target locations to make these observations. We reviewed the literature to compare prior studies and to evaluate the rationale and the methods used in these studies.
Methods: We performed a systematic literature search of the PubMed database using the terms “transcranial,” “noninvasive,” “brain stimulation,” “transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS),” “transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS),” “transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS),” and “essential tremor.”
Results: Single pulses of TMS to the primary motor cortex have long been known to reset tremor. Although there are relatively few studies showing alterations in motor cortical physiology, such as motor threshold, short and long intracortical inhibition, and cortical silent period, there may be some evidence of altered intracortical facilitation and cerebello-brain inhibition in ET. Repetitive TMS, theta burst stimulation, tDCS, and tACS have been applied to human subjects with tremor with some preliminary signs of tremor reduction, particularly in those studies that employed consecutive daily sessions.
Discussion: A variety of stimulation paradigms and targets have been explored, with the increasing rationale an interest in targeting the cerebellum. Rigorous assessment of coil geometry, stimulation paradigm, rationale for selection of the specific anatomic target, and careful phenotypic and physiologic characterization of the subjects with ET undergoing these interventions may be critical in extending these preliminary findings into effective stimulation therapies.