The pathophysiology of tremor

Muscle Nerve. 2001 Jun;24(6):716-35. doi: 10.1002/mus.1063.


Tremor is defined as rhythmic oscillatory activity of body parts. Four physiological basic mechanisms for such oscillatory activity have been described: mechanical oscillations; oscillations based on reflexes; oscillations due to central neuronal pacemakers; and oscillations because of disturbed feedforward or feedback loops. New methodological approaches with animal models, positron emission tomography, and mathematical analysis of electromyographic and electroencephalographic signals have provided new insights into the mechanisms underlying specific forms of tremor. Physiological tremor is due to mechanical and central components. Psychogenic tremor is considered to depend on a clonus mechanism and is thus believed to be mediated by reflex mechanisms. Symptomatic palatal tremor is most likely due to rhythmic activity of the inferior olive, and there is much evidence that essential tremor is also generated within the olivocerebellar circuits. Orthostatic tremor is likely to originate in hitherto unidentified brainstem nuclei. Rest tremor of Parkinson's disease is probably generated in the basal ganglia loop, and dystonic tremor may also originate within the basal ganglia. Cerebellar tremor is at least in part caused by a disturbance of the cerebellar feedforward control of voluntary movements, and Holmes' tremor is due to the combination of the mechanisms producing parkinsonian and cerebellar tremor. Neuropathic tremor is believed to be caused by abnormally functioning reflex pathways and a wide variety of causes underlies toxic and drug-induced tremors. The understanding of the pathophysiology of tremor has made significant progress but many hypotheses are not yet based on sufficient data. Modern neurology needs to develop and test such hypotheses, because this is the only way to develop rational medical and surgical therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Reference Values
  • Tremor / classification
  • Tremor / physiopathology*