On the Origin of Tremor in Parkinson’s Disease

The exact origin of tremor in Parkinson’s disease remains unknown. We explain why the existing data converge on the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop as a tremor generator and consider a conductance-based model of subthalamo-pallidal circuits embedded into a simplified representation of the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuit to investigate the dynamics of this loop. We show how variation of the strength of dopamine-modulated connections in the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop (representing the decreasing dopamine level in Parkinson’s disease) leads to the occurrence of tremor-like burst firing. These tremor-like oscillations are suppressed when the connections are modulated back to represent a higher dopamine level (as it would be the case in dopaminergic therapy), as well as when the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop is broken (as would be the case for ablative anti-parkinsonian surgeries). Thus, the proposed model provides an explanation for the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop mechanism of tremor generation. The strengthening of the loop leads to tremor oscillations, while the weakening or disconnection of the loop suppresses them. The loop origin of parkinsonian tremor also suggests that new tremor-suppression therapies may have anatomical targets in different cortical and subcortical areas as long as they are within the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop.

Citation: Dovzhenok A, Rubchinsky LL (2012) On the Origin of Tremor in Parkinson’s Disease. PLoS ONE 7(7): e41598. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041598
Editor: Gennady Cymbalyuk, Georgia State University, United States of America
Received April 2, 2012; Accepted June 25, 2012; Published July 27, 2012
Copyright:  2012 Dovzhenok, Rubchinsky. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Funding: This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant R01NS067200 (National Science Foundation/NIH Collaborative Research in
Computational Neuroscience program). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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