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Nat Rev Neurol. 2009 Nov;5(11):598-609. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2009.160. Epub 2009 Oct 13.

Primary dystonia: molecules and mechanisms.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.


Primary dystonia is characterized by abnormal, involuntary twisting and turning movements that reflect impaired motor system function. The dystonic brain seems normal, in that it contains no overt lesions or evidence of neurodegeneration, but functional brain imaging has uncovered abnormalities involving the cortex, striatum and cerebellum, and diffusion tensor imaging suggests the presence of microstructural defects in white matter tracts of the cerebellothalamocortical circuit. Clinical electrophysiological studies show that the dystonic CNS exhibits aberrant plasticity--perhaps related to deficient inhibitory neurotransmission--in a range of brain structures, as well as the spinal cord. Dystonia is, therefore, best conceptualized as a motor circuit disorder, rather than an abnormality of a particular brain structure. None of the aforementioned abnormalities can be strictly causal, as they are not limited to regions of the CNS subserving clinically affected body parts, and are found in seemingly healthy patients with dystonia-related mutations. The study of dystonia-related genes will, hopefully, help researchers to unravel the chain of events from molecular to cellular to system abnormalities. DYT1 mutations, for example, cause abnormalities within the endoplasmic reticulum-nuclear envelope endomembrane system. Other dystonia-related gene products traffic through the endoplasmic reticulum, suggesting a potential cell biological theme underlying primary dystonia.

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