Cerebello-thalamic activity drives an abnormal motor network into dystonic tremor

Freek Nieuwhof, Ivan Toni, Michiel F. Dirkx, Cecile Gallea, Marie Vidailhet, Arthur W. G. Buijink, Anne-Fleur van Rootselaar, Bart P. C. van de Warrenburg, Rick C. Helmich

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Dystonic tremor syndromes are highly burdensome and treatment is often inadequate. This is partly due to poor understanding of the underlying pathophysiology. Several lines of research suggest involvement of the cerebello-thalamo-cortical circuit and the basal ganglia in dystonic tremor syndromes, but their role is unclear. Here we aimed to investigate the contribution of the cerebello-thalamo-cortical circuit and the basal ganglia to the pathophysiology of dystonic tremor syndrome, by directly linking tremor fluctuations to cerebral activity during scanning. In 27 patients with dystonic tremor syndrome (dystonic tremor: n = 23; tremor associated with dystonia: n = 4), we used concurrent accelerometery and functional MRI during a posture holding task that evoked tremor, alternated with rest. Using multiple regression analyses, we separated tremor-related activity from brain activity related to (voluntary) posture holding. Using dynamic causal modelling, we tested for altered effective connectivity between tremor-related brain regions as a function of tremor amplitude fluctuations. Finally, we compared grey matter volume between patients (n = 27) and matched controls (n = 27). We found tremor-related activity in sensorimotor regions of the bilateral cerebellum, contralateral posterior and anterior ventral lateral nuclei of the thalamus (VLp and VLa), contralateral primary motor cortex (hand area), contralateral pallidum, and the bilateral frontal cortex (laterality with respect to the tremor). Grey matter volume was increased in patients compared to controls in the portion of contralateral thalamus also showing tremor-related activity, as well as in bilateral medial and left lateral primary motor cortex, where no tremor-related activity was present. Effective connectivity analyses showed that inter-regional coupling in the cerebello-thalamic pathway, as well as the thalamic self-connection, were strengthened as a function of increasing tremor power. These findings indicate that the pathophysiology of dystonic tremor syndromes involves functional and structural changes in the cerebello-thalamo-cortical circuit and pallidum. Deficient input from the cerebellum towards the thalamo-cortical circuit, together with hypertrophy of the thalamus, may play a key role in the generation of dystonic tremor syndrome.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102919
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Dystonia
  • Dystonic tremor
  • Tremor
  • functional MRI

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