Repeated Spiral Drawings in Essential Tremor: a Possible Limb-Based Measure of Motor Learning

Christine Y. Kim, Lan Luo, Qiping Yu, Ana Mirallave, Rachel Saunders-Pullman, Richard B. Lipton, Elan D. Louis, Seth L. Pullman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


To investigate changes in tremor severity over repeated spiral drawings to assess whether learning deficits can be evaluated directly in a limb in essential tremor (ET). A motor learning deficit in ET, possibly mediated by cerebellar pathways, has been established in eye-blink conditioning studies, but not paradigms measuring from an affected, tremulous limb. Computerized spiral analysis captures multiple characteristics of Archimedean spirals and quantifies performance through calculated indices. Sequential spiral drawing has recently been suggested to demonstrate improvement across trials among ET subjects. One hundred and sixty-one ET and 80 age-matched control subjects drew 10 consecutive spirals on a digitizing tablet. Degree of severity (DoS), a weighted, computational score of spiral execution that takes into account spiral shape and line smoothness, previously validated against a clinical rating scale, was calculated in both groups. Tremor amplitude (Ampl), an independent index of tremor size, measured in centimeters, was also calculated. Changes in DoS and Ampl across trials were assessed using linear regression with slope evaluations. Both groups demonstrated improvement in DoS across trials, but with less improvement in the ET group compared to controls. Ampl demonstrated a tendency to worsen across trials in ET subjects. ET subjects demonstrated less improvement than controls when drawing sequential spirals, suggesting a possible motor learning deficit in ET, here captured in an affected limb. DoS improved independently of Ampl, showing that DoS and Ampl are separable motor physiologic components in ET that may be independently mediated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-187
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2019


  • Cerebellum
  • Computerized spiral analysis
  • Essential tremor
  • Motor learning
  • Movement disorders


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