A new understanding of Tourette syndrome may help scientists to soon develop non-drug therapies to control involuntary noises and movements characteristic of the condition. Investigators in the United Kingdom say those tics appear to be caused from bad wiring in the brain resulting in “hyperexcitability” in regions controlling motor function. Stephen Jackson, a psychology professor at the University of Nottingham called the findings promising for children in particular.
“This new study is very important as it indicates that motor and vocal tics in children may be controlled by brain changes that alter the excitability of brain cells ahead of voluntary movements," Jackson said in a statement. You can think of this as a bit like turning the volume down on an over-loud motor system. This is important as it suggests a mechanism that might lead to an effective non-pharmacological therapy for Tourette syndrome."
The condition affects one in 100 children with an onset typically in early childhood, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like similar neurological conditions, symptoms may disappear by adolescence in approximately one-third of children with Tourette, with another third gaining some relief from symptoms. The other third carry their symptoms into adulthood, fighting social stigma and other problems. Although tics typically involve uncontrollable head movements and throat-clearing, few sufferers of Tourette experience involuntary blurtings of profane language — coprolalia — for which the condition is known.
In the study, Jackson and his colleagues used brain scanning technology to compare the brains of those with Tourette to more neurotypical people. Those with the condition were less able to control hyperactivity in the brain, suggesting a neurotypical mechanism serving that function. Moreover, investigators conjectured that the brain may rewire such areas during adolesence, explaining how most childhood suffers either recover or improve.
With a larger constituency than autism spectrum disorder, the online Tourette community continues to fight social stigma by dispeling common myths. Although few sufferers typically encounter accusations of demonization or heresy, symptoms remain troubling for children and their parents. An online support group for parents, TS Parents Online, emphasizes that sufferes do not experience problems with cognitive development; nor can they control their condition by merely “concentrating.” Experts on Tourette syndrome also say the condition is not nuerodegenerative, with most sufferers leading full lives into adulthood.