Dystonia, which causes intermittent or sustained abnormal postures and movements, can present in a focal or a generalized manner. In the limbs, focal dystonia can occur in either the upper or lower limbs and may be task-specific causing abnormal motor performance for only a specific task, such as in writer's cramp, runner's dystonia, or musician's dystonia. Focal limb dystonia can be non-task-specific and may, in some circumstances, be associated with parkinsonian disorders. The true prevalence of focal limb dystonia is not known and is likely currently underestimated, leaving a knowledge gap and an opportunity for future research. The pathophysiology of focal limb dystonia shares some commonalities with other dystonias with a loss of inhibition in the central nervous system and a loss of the normal regulation of plasticity, called homeostatic plasticity. Functional imaging studies revealed abnormalities in several anatomical networks that involve the cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. Further studies should focus on distinguishing cause from effect in both physiology and imaging studies to permit focus on most relevant biological correlates of dystonia. There is no specific therapy for the treatment of limb dystonia given the variability in presentation, but off-label botulinum toxin therapy is often applied to focal limb and task-specific dystonia. Various rehabilitation techniques have been applied and rehabilitation interventions may improve outcomes, but small sample size and lack of direct comparisons between methods to evaluate comparative efficacy limit conclusions. Finally, non-invasive and invasive therapeutic modalities have been explored in small studies with design limitations that do not yet clearly provide direction for larger clinical trials that could support new clinical therapies. Given these gaps in our clinical, pathophysiologic, and therapeutic knowledge, we have identified priorities for future research including: the development of diagnostic criteria for limb dystonia, more precise phenotypic characterization and innovative clinical trial design that considers clinical heterogeneity, and limited available number of participants.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Supported in part by a grant to the Dystonia Coalition (U54 TR001456 and NS065701) from the Office of Rare Diseases Research (ORDR) in the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The project was also supported in part by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health through Grant Number KL2 1TR001448-01 and Grant Number UL1 TR000041.
- Botulinum toxin
- Deep brain stimulation
- Research priorities