Paroxysmal movement disorders (PMDs) are rare neurological diseases typically manifesting with intermittent attacks of abnormal involuntary movements. Two main categories of PMDs are recognized based on the phenomenology: Paroxysmal dyskinesias (PxDs) are characterized by transient episodes hyperkinetic movement disorders, while attacks of cerebellar dysfunction are the hallmark of episodic ataxias (EAs). From an etiological point of view, both primary (genetic) and secondary (acquired) causes of PMDs are known. Recognition and diagnosis of PMDs is based on personal and familial medical history, physical examination, detailed reconstruction of ictal phenomenology, neuroimaging, and genetic analysis. Neurophysiological or laboratory tests are reserved for selected cases. Genetic knowledge of PMDs has been largely incremented by the advent of next generation sequencing (NGS) methodologies. The wide number of genes involved in the pathogenesis of PMDs reflects a high complexity of molecular bases of neurotransmission in cerebellar and basal ganglia circuits. In consideration of the broad genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity, a NGS approach by targeted panel for movement disorders, clinical or whole exome sequencing should be preferred, whenever possible, to a single gene approach, in order to increase diagnostic rate. This review is focused on clinical and genetic features of PMDs with the aim to (1) help clinicians to recognize, diagnose and treat patients with PMDs as well as to (2) provide an overview of genes and molecular mechanisms underlying these intriguing neurogenetic disorders.
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