Pathways in the brain that lead to Tourette’s syndrome discovered

Tourette’s syndrome manifests itself with tics that can become very annoying or severe: discovery of the network in the brain that causes it

When we move into unfamiliar territory, we need a map to guide us. The same is true for the human brain. If it is necessary to understand how a certain phenomenon arises, it is necessary to know where it is located and what connections are created for the picture to be determined.

This was precisely the goal of a research published in Brain and carried out by experts from the Charité University of Berlin, who managed to retrace the network that leads to the development of very severe tics thanks to a system of deep brain stimulation (in practice a sort of pacemaker of the brain) which involves the use of electrodes capable of stimulating and recording the reactions of the brain areas. In the future, thanks to studies of this kind, even more targeted treatments could be developed for Tourette’s syndrome and other signatures of severe tics.

What is Tourette’s Syndrome

It is a condition characterized by the presence of rapid and sudden movements, or, conversely, slow and sustained, stereotyped, and by vocalizations of various types which are known as tics. These tics can be simple, such as blinking, or complex, involving a greater and more articulated number of muscle groups, and therefore present with grimacing of the face or part of the face, or with shoulder shaking, twisting movements. hands clasped together, movements that simulate drawing, or with a tap of the fingers on an object or with other manifestations. In some cases we get to have attitudes that can be annoying, such as the need to continually touch people or smell them.

On the front of the “noises” induced by the tic, these can take on different characteristics, developing in the form of grunts, coughs, particular vocal sequences. Or you can move on to formulated sentences, repeating words or the terminal part of words spoken by others, as in a game, or instead of immediate foul content.

Characteristic of these tics is the variation in intensity over time, and often, the change of shape and location: a certain type of tic happens to another in a different part of the body. The problem mainly affects males with a ratio of three to four to one compared to females and begins before the age of 18, usually around 5-6 years. The intensity of the disorder often increases in later years and peaks in the prepubertal period and early adolescence. Then in many cases there is a decrease in intensity and frequency, or even the disappearance of the tics, but in some the disorder persists into adulthood.

Tourette’s Syndrome has a genetic basis whose specific nature is not yet known, but now, thanks to German research, we can think of developing specific treatments for each individual case.

A “network” that generates the tic

The study published in Brain started from the observation of publications dedicated to patients with very rare forms of nervous tic, such as the one that appears after a stroke or following serious physical trauma. By analyzing these cases, the experts reconstructed the map of the brain areas involved in pathological processes and then studied their connections on healthy people, together with experts from Harvard University.

In practice, the study has shown that there are real common networks, regardless of the lesions and the seriousness of the picture, which involve different areas of the nervous system and interfere with the control of movements and the management of emotions. In practice, these networks could explain the onset of severe forms of movements and other repeated and uncontrolled reactions as demonstrated by the data collected on patients with Tourette’s syndrome, using deep brain stimulation, currently used only in particularly severe cases. In short, the path of research appears to be open and in the future perhaps more and more targeted approaches will be available for those who deal with these frameworks.

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