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Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience - Physiology - Surgery

Is There a Role for Combined EMG-fMRI in Exploring the Pathophysiology of Essential Tremor and Improving Functional Neurosurgery?
Published: Monday, October 01, 2012
Author: Maria Fiorella Contarino et al.

by Maria Fiorella Contarino, Paul F. C. Groot, Johan N. van der Meer, Lo J. Bour, Johannes D. Speelman, Aart J. Nederveen, Pepijn van den Munckhof, Marina A. J. Tijssen, Peter Rick Schuurman, Anne-Fleur van Rootselaar


Functional MRI combined with electromyography (EMG-fMRI) is a new technique to investigate the functional association of movement to brain activations. Thalamic stereotactic surgery is effective in reducing tremor. However, while some patients have satisfying benefit, others have only partial or temporary relief. This could be due to suboptimal targeting in some cases. By identifying tremor-related areas, EMG-fMRI could provide more insight into the pathophysiology of tremor and be potentially useful in refining surgical targeting.


Aim of the study was to evaluate whether EMG-fMRI could detect blood oxygen level dependent brain activations associated with tremor in patients with Essential Tremor. Second, we explored whether EMG-fMRI could improve the delineation of targets for stereotactic surgery.


Simultaneous EMG-fMRI was performed in six Essential Tremor patients with unilateral thalamotomy. EMG was recorded from the trembling arm (non-operated side) and from the contralateral arm (operated side). Protocols were designed to study brain activations related to voluntary muscle contractions and postural tremor.


Analysis with the EMG regressor was able to show the association of voluntary movements with activity in the contralateral motor cortex and supplementary motor area, and ipsilateral cerebellum. The EMG tremor frequency regressor showed an association between tremor and activity in the ipsilateral cerebellum and contralateral thalamus. The activation spot in the thalamus varied across patients and did not correspond to the thalamic nucleus ventralis intermedius.


EMG-fMRI is potentially useful in detecting brain activations associated with tremor in patients with Essential Tremor. The technique must be further developed before being useful in supporting targeting for stereotactic surgery.