Brain study’s Tourette hope

November 3rd, 2014

A brain mechanism which controls tics in children with Tourette syndrome (TS) has been discovered by scientists at Nottingham. It could herald new non-drug therapies to help young people with the condition.

The study was carried out by PhD student Amelia Draper and published in the British Psychological Society’s Journal of Neuropsychology.

Scientists believe that the tics that affect children with TS are caused by faulty wiring in the brain that leads to hyper excitability in controlling motor function.

The researchers believe the mechanisms in the brain that control tics change during the teenage years. In adolescence, around two-thirds of children with TS will find that their tics disappear or they learn to more effectively control them. Unfortunately, many remain troubled by TS symptoms into adulthood.

Amelia said if early development of the brain causes overactivity in its striatum, signals to the cortex lead to hyper-excitability and cause tics.

She said the team was looking at how to “turn down” this excitability. “This is potentially extremely important as the parents of children with tics are desperate to find a safe and effective therapy that is an alternative to drug treatments,” she said.

The team used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to stimulate motor function and induce a twitch response. By delivering TMS just before a hand movement, alterations in brain excitability are detected. Subjects with TS were least able to modulate the hyperactivity in the brain.

The team also uses transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) to study the brains of children with TS. TDS may decrease neuronal excitability and suppress tics. TDCS may also increase neuronal excitability — improving learning and memory function.

The technology could be adapted into a TENS machine-style device offering cheap, portable therapy for children with TS.

Professor Stephen Jackson, in the School of Psychology, said: “It can be applied at home while the child is watching TV or eating their cornflakes so it would reduce the amount of school they would miss and potentially we can use the TDCS to both control the tics and make that control more effective and longer lasting.”

Amelia is also using MRI technology to scan cortical excitability and a brain chemical linked to neuronal excitability in TS.

The work was funded by with a £150,000  from the James Tudor Foundation.

Chief Executive Rod Shaw said: “We’re glad to see the funding is producing some interesting and potentially useful results.”

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