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Prog Neurobiol. 2005 Oct;77(3):139-65. Epub 2005 Nov 21.

The restless legs syndrome.

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Laboratoire de Neurophysiologie, UMR-CNRS 5543, Université Bordeaux 2, Bordeaux, France.


The restless legs syndrome (RLS) is one of the commonest neurological sensorimotor disorders at least in the Western countries and is often associated with periodic limb movements (PLM) during sleep leading to severe insomnia. However, it remains largely underdiagnosed and its underlying pathogenesis is presently unknown. Women are more affected than men and early-onset disease is associated with familial cases. A genetic origin has been suggested but the mode of inheritance is unknown. Secondary causes of RLS may share a common underlying pathophysiology implicating iron deficiency or misuse. The excellent response to dopaminegic drugs points to a central role of dopamine in the pathophysiology of RLS. Iron may also represent a primary factor in the development of RLS, as suggested by recent pathological and brain imaging studies. However, the way dopamine and iron, and probably other compounds, interact to generate the circadian pattern in the occurrence of RLS and PLM symptoms remains unknown. The same is also the case for the level of interaction of the two compounds within the central nervous system (CNS). Recent electrophysiological and animals studies suggest that complex spinal mechanisms are involved in the generation of RLS and PLM symptomatology. Dopamine modulation of spinal reflexes through dopamine D3 receptors was recently highlighted in animal models. The present review suggests that RLS is a complex disorder that may result from a complex dysfunction of interacting neuronal networks at one or several levels of the CNS and involving numerous neurotransmitter systems.

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