Physiological and pathological tremors and rhythmic central motor control

Brain. 2000 Aug;123 ( Pt 8):1545-67. doi: 10.1093/brain/123.8.1545.


In recent years there has been increasing interest in oscillatory neural activity in the CNS and in the role that such activity may have in motor control. It is thought that physiological tremor may be a manifestation in the periphery of such central oscillatory activity and that some pathological tremors are the result of derangement of these oscillators. This review re-evaluates both early and recent studies on physiological and pathological tremors and other peripheral oscillations in order to gain a new perspective on the nature and function of their central progenitors. This approach, namely using tremor as a 'window' into the function of central oscillations, is particularly suited to human investigations because of the obvious limitations of direct central recording. It is argued that physiological tremor is likely to be multifactorial in origin, with contributions not only from CNS 10-Hz range oscillatory activity, but also from motor unit firing properties, mechanical resonances and reflex loop resonances. Different origins are likely to dominate under different conditions. While some pathological tremors appear to arise as a distortion of central or peripheral components of physiological tremor, others arise de novo, such as the pathological oscillation of 3- to 6-Hz parkinsonian tremor. CNS oscillations outside the 10-Hz range are also found to modulate limb activity in normal individuals, and oscillatory activity exists in other motor systems such as eye movements. Finally, it is shown how studies of peripheral oscillations may help develop hypotheses on the role of CNS oscillations in motor control, including the proposed 'binding' function of synchronized oscillations and the possibility that motor signals could be coded by frequency of modulating oscillation as well as by synaptic connectivity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Periodicity*
  • Reference Values
  • Tremor / physiopathology*