Neuroimaging of Essential Tremor: What is the Evidence for Cerebellar Involvement?
Background: Clinical observations and electrophysiological studies have provided initial evidence for the involvement of the cerebellum in essential tremor (ET), the most frequent hyperkinetic disorder. Recently, this hypothesis has been reinvigorated by post-mortem studies that demonstrated a number of pathological changes in the cerebellum of ET patients compared with age-matched healthy controls. Advanced neuroimaging techniques have also made it possible to detect in vivo which cerebellar abnormalities are present in ET patients and to reveal the core mechanisms implicated in the development of motor and cognitive symptoms in ET.
Objective: We discuss the neuroimaging research investigating the brain structure and function of ET patients relative to healthy controls. In particular, we review 1) structural neuroimaging experiments assessing the density/volume of cortical/subcortical regions and the integrity of the white-matter fibers connecting them; 2) functional studies exploring brain responses during motor/cognitive tasks and the function of specific neurotransmitters/metabolites within cortical–cerebellar circuits.
Methods: A search in PubMed was conducted to identify the relevant literature.
Discussion: Current neuroimaging research provides converging evidence for the role of the cerebellum in the pathophysiology of ET, although some inconsistencies exist, particularly in structural studies. These discrepancies may depend on the high clinical heterogeneity of ET and on differences among the experimental methods used across studies. Further investigations are needed to disentangle the relationships between specific ET phenotypes and the underlying patterns of neural abnormalities.