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Cerebellum. 2016 Jun;15(3):235-42. doi: 10.1007/s12311-015-0692-6.

Linking Essential Tremor to the Cerebellum: Neuropathological Evidence.

Louis ED1,2,3.

Author information

Division of Movement Disorders, Department of Neurology, Yale School of Medicine, Yale University, LCI 710, 15 York Street, PO Box 208018, New Haven, CT, 06520-8018, USA.
Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
Center for Neuroepidemiology and Clinical Neurological Research, Yale School of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


A fundamental question about essential tremor (ET) is whether its associated pathological changes and disease mechanisms are linkable to a specific brain region. To that end, recent tissue-based studies have made significant strides in elucidating changes in the ET brain. Emerging from these studies is increasing neuropathological evidence linking ET to the cerebellum. These studies have systematically identified a broad range of structural, degenerative changes in the ET cerebellum, spanning across all Purkinje cell compartments. These include the dendritic compartment (where there is an increase in number of Purkinje cell dendritic swellings, a pruning of the dendritic arbor, and a reduction in spine density), the cell body (where, aside from reductions in Purkinje cell linear density in some studies, there is an increase in the number of heterotopic Purkinje cell soma), and the axonal compartment (where a plethora of changes in axonal morphology have been observed, including an increase in the number of thickened axonal profiles, torpedoes, axonal recurrent collaterals, axonal branching, and terminal axonal sprouting). Additional changes, possibly due to secondary remodeling, have been observed in neighboring neuronal populations. These include a hypertrophy of basket cell axonal processes and changes in the distribution of climbing fiber-Purkinje cell synapses. These changes all distinguish ET from normal control brains. Initial studies further indicate that the profile (i.e., constellation) of these changes may separate ET from other diseases of the cerebellum, thereby serving as a disease signature. With the discovery of these changes, a new model of ET has arisen, which posits that it may be a neurodegenerative disorder centered in the cerebellar cortex. These newly emerging neuropathological studies pave the way for anatomically focused, hypothesis-driven, molecular mechanistic studies of disease pathogenesis.


Biology; Cerebellum; Essential tremor; Neurodegeneration; Purkinje cell

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