Gamma Knife thalamotomy for tremor in the magnetic resonance imaging era

Clinical article

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The surgical management of disabling tremor has gained renewed vigor with the availability of deep brain stimulation. However, in the face of an aging population of patients with increasing surgical comorbidities, noninvasive approaches for tremor management are needed. The authors' purpose was to study the technique and results of stereotactic radiosurgery performed in the era of MRI targeting.


The authors evaluated outcomes in 86 patients (mean age 71 years; number of procedures 88) who underwent a unilateral Gamma Knife thalamotomy (GKT) for tremor during a 15-year period that spanned the era of MRI-based target selection (1996–2011). Symptoms were related to essential tremor in 48 patients (19 age ≥ 80 years and 3 age ≥ 90 years), Parkinson disease in 27 patients (11 age ≥ 80 years [1 patient underwent bilateral procedures]), and multiple sclerosis in 11 patients (1 patient underwent bilateral procedures). A single 4-mm isocenter was used to deliver a maximum dose of 140 Gy to the posterior-inferior region of the nucleus ventralis intermedius. The Fahn-Tolosa-Marin clinical tremor rating scale was used to grade tremor, handwriting, and ability to drink. The median follow-up was 23 months.


The mean tremor score was 3.28 ± 0.79 before and 1.81 ± 1.15 after (p < 0.0001) GKT; the mean handwriting score was 2.78 ± 0.82 and 1.62 ± 1.04, respectively (p < 0.0001); and the mean drinking score was 3.14 ± 0.78 and 1.80 ± 1.15, respectively (p < 0.0001). After GKT, 57 patients (66%) showed improvement in all 3 scores, 11 patients (13%) in 2 scores, and 2 patients (2%) in just 1 score. In 16 patients (19%) there was a failure to improve in any score. Two patients developed a temporary contralateral hemiparesis, 1 patient noted dysphagia, and 1 sustained facial sensory loss.


Gamma Knife thalamotomy in the MRI era was a safe and effective noninvasive surgical strategy for medically refractory tremor in the elderly or those with contraindications to deep brain stimulation or stereotactic radiofrequency (thermal) thalamotomy.

Abbreviations used in this paper:AC = anterior commissure; DBS = deep brain stimulation; ET = essential tremor; FTM = Fahn-Tolosa-Marin; GKT = Gamma Knife thalamotomy; MS = multiple sclerosis; PC = posterior commissure; PD = Parkinson disease; RFT = radiofrequency thalamotomy; VIM = ventralis intermedius.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Douglas Kondziolka, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, NYU Langone Medical Center, 530 First Avenue, Suite 8R, New York, New York 10016. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online February 1, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.1.JNS121111.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Preoperative and the most recent follow-up writing (A), tremor (B), and water-drinking (C) scores for all patients who underwent GKT.


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