Essential tremor pathology: neurodegeneration and reorganization of neuronal connections

Elan D. Louis, Phyllis L. Faust

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Essential tremor (ET) is the most common tremor disorder globally and is characterized by kinetic tremor of the upper limbs, although other clinical features can also occur. Postmortem studies are a particularly important avenue for advancing our understanding of the pathogenesis of ET; however, until recently, the number of such studies has been limited. Several recent postmortem studies have made important contributions to our understanding of the pathological changes that take place in ET. These studies identified abnormalities in the cerebellum, which primarily affected Purkinje cells (PCs), basket cells and climbing fibres, in individuals with ET. We suggest that some of these pathological changes (for example, focal PC axonal swellings, swellings in and regression of the PC dendritic arbor and PC death) are likely to be primary and degenerative. By contrast, other changes, such as an increase in PC recurrent axonal collateral formation and hypertrophy of GABAergic basket cell axonal processes, could be compensatory responses to restore cerebellar GABAergic tone and cerebellar cortical inhibitory efficacy. Such compensatory responses are likely to be insufficient, enabling the disease to progress. Here, we review the results of recent postmortem studies of ET and attempt to place these findings into an anatomical–physiological disease model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-83
Number of pages15
JournalNature Reviews Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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