Essential Tremor Within the Broader Context of Other Forms of Cerebellar Degeneration

Cerebellum. 2020 Dec;19(6):879-896. doi: 10.1007/s12311-020-01160-4.


Essential tremor (ET) has recently been reconceptualized by many as a degenerative disease of the cerebellum. Until now, though, there has been no attempt to frame it within the context of these diseases. Here, we compare the clinical and postmortem features of ET with other cerebellar degenerations, thereby placing it within the broader context of these diseases. Action tremor is the hallmark feature of ET. Although often underreported in the spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs), action tremors occur, and it is noteworthy that in SCA12 and 15, they are highly prevalent, often severe, and can be the earliest disease manifestation, resulting in an initial diagnosis of ET in many cases. Intention tremor, sometimes referred to as "cerebellar tremor," is a common feature of ET and many SCAs. Other features of cerebellar dysfunction, gait ataxia and eye motion abnormalities, are seen to a mild degree in ET and more markedly in SCAs. Several SCAs (e.g., SCA5, 6, 14, and 15), like ET, follow a milder and more protracted disease course. In ET, numerous postmortem changes have been localized to the cerebellum and are largely confined to the cerebellar cortex, preserving the cerebellar nuclei. Purkinje cell loss is modest. Similarly, in SCA3, 12, and 15, Purkinje cell loss is limited, and in SCA12 and 15, there is preservation of cerebellar nuclei and relative sparing of other central nervous system regions. Both clinically and pathologically, there are numerous similarities and intersection points between ET and other disorders of cerebellar degeneration.

Keywords: Cerebellar degeneration; Clinical; Essential tremor; Neuropathology; Spinocerebellar ataxia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebellar Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Cerebellar Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology*
  • Essential Tremor / diagnosis*
  • Essential Tremor / physiopathology*
  • Humans