The neural circuits that generate tics in Tourette's syndrome

Zhishun Wang, Tiago V Maia, Rachel Marsh, Tiziano Colibazzi, Andrew Gerber, Bradley S Peterson
American Journal of Psychiatry 2011, 168 (12): 1326-37

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to examine neural activity and connectivity within cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical circuits and to reveal circuit-based neural mechanisms that govern tic generation in Tourette's syndrome.

METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired from 13 individuals with Tourette's syndrome and 21 healthy comparison subjects during spontaneous or simulated tics. Independent component analysis with hierarchical partner matching was used to isolate neural activity within functionally distinct regions of cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical circuits. Granger causality was used to investigate causal interactions among these regions.

RESULTS: The Tourette's syndrome group exhibited stronger neural activity and interregional causality than healthy comparison subjects throughout all portions of the motor pathway, including the sensorimotor cortex, putamen, pallidum, and substantia nigra. Activity in these areas correlated positively with the severity of tic symptoms. Activity within the Tourette's syndrome group was stronger during spontaneous tics than during voluntary tics in the somatosensory and posterior parietal cortices, putamen, and amygdala/hippocampus complex, suggesting that activity in these regions may represent features of the premonitory urges that generate spontaneous tic behaviors. In contrast, activity was weaker in the Tourette's syndrome group than in the healthy comparison group within portions of cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical circuits that exert top-down control over motor pathways (the caudate and anterior cingulate cortex), and progressively less activity in these regions accompanied more severe tic symptoms, suggesting that faulty activity in these circuits may result in their failure to control tic behaviors or the premonitory urges that generate them.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings, taken together, suggest that tics are caused by the combined effects of excessive activity in motor pathways and reduced activation in control portions of cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical circuits.

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