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Brain changes in Tourette syndrome

Using MRIs, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified areas in the brains of children with Tourette’s syndrome that appear markedly different from the same areas in the brains of children who don’t have the neuropsychiatric disorder.

RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS HAVE IDENTIFIED A FEW AREAS IN THE BRAINS OF CHILDREN WITH TOURETTE’S SYNDROME THAT APPEAR TO BE DIFFERENT FROM THE SAME AREAS IN THE BRAINS OF KIDS WHO DON’T HAVE THE NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER. AND THE REGIONS THAT THEY IDENTIFIED ARE ONES WHERE THEY HADN’T REALLY EXPECTED TO SEE DIFFERENCES. JIM DRYDEN HAS THE STORY…

THE RESEARCHERS USED MAGNIETIC RESONANCE IMAGING IN THE LARGEST STUDY OF ITS KIND EVER DONE ON PATIENTS WITH TOURETTE’S SYNDROME. IT INVOLVED RESEARCH TEAMS AT SEVERAL CENTERS AROUND THE UNITED STATES. PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR KEVIN BLACK, A PSYCHIATRIST AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS, SAYS THE RESEARCHERS ANALYZED MRI BRAIN SCANS CONDUCTED ON 103 KIDS WHO HAD TICS RELATED TO TOURETTE’S SYNDROME AND ANOTHER 103 KIDS OF THE SAME AGE AND GENDER WHO DIDN’T.

(act) :23 o/c template brain

The method that we picked is one that looks at the whole brain.

Basically, it squishes and stretches a brain until it’s the same

shape as a “standard brain,” and keeps track of how much it’s

squished, or stretched, in each spot so that you can tell what the

volume of the brain was that matches any given part of the template

brain.

IN ADDITION TO THE SQUISHING AND STRETCHING OF THE IMAGE, THE METHOD ALSO CAN DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN GRAY MATTER AND WHITE MATTER IN THE BRAIN.

(act) :09 o/c the MRI

The method also figures how much gray matter or white matter

was in each spot based on the color, essentially, of the brain

image, of the MRI.

BLACK SAYS WHEN THE STUDY BEGAN, THE RESEARCHERS WERE FOCUSED ON PARTS OF THE BRAIN THAT ARE RELATED TO MOVEMENT BECAUSE TOURETTE’S IS CHARACTERIZED BY MOVEMENTS CALLED TICS. BUT BLACK SAYS THE STUDY DIDN’T FIND DIFFERENCES IN THOSE PARTS OF THE BRAIN. INSTEAD, THEY FOUND EXTRA GRAY MATTER IN SOME PARTS OF THE BRAIN AND REDUCED WHITE MATTER IN OTHER PARTS, AND MANY OF THOSE BRAIN REGIONS WERE RELATED TO THE PROCESSING OF SENSATION. THAT COULD MAKE SOME SENSE, BLACK SAYS, BECAUSE MANY PEOPLE WITH TOURETTE’S REPORT THAT THEY TEND TO TIC IN RESPONSE TO A SENSATION.

(act) :24 o/c own beast

Like, “Well, I’m only clearing my throat because it feels funny,”

that kind of thing. Or “I only sniff because my nose feels itchy.”

Maybe the sensory features are really the most obvious ones. Like,

if you have a cold, and somebody says, “Well, why don’t you stop

coughing?” You’re like, “Well, I’m only coughing because I’ve got

junk in my throat.” You know, that kind of sense that, really, it’s

the feelings inside that lead to the tics, rather than the tics

being their own beast.

AS TO WHETHER THE DIFFERENCES IN THE BRAINS OF KIDS WITH TOURETTE’S ARE ACTUALLY CAUSING THEM TO TIC OR ARE THE RESULT OF THOSE CHILDREN TRYING TO ADJUST TO THEIR TICS, BLACK SAYS IT’S TOO EARLY TO TELL.

(act) :23 o/c years now

Is this something that starts early in life? Does it start

before people have tics, and that leads to their having tics?

Or, is it a healthy response to tics that helps fight them off?

Those are questions that we can best answer by trying to catch

people very early on in the course of tic disorders. That’s a

line of work that I’ve been trying to do for several years now.

HE SAYS THE SEARCH FOR A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT TOURETTE’S IS AND HOW TO TREAT IT MORE EFFECTIVELY CAN BE A SLOW PROCESS BECAUSE THE DISEASE IS RELATIVELY RARE, AND STUDIES TAKE A LONG TIME. BUT BLACK SAYS COOPERATION BETWEEN SEVERAL CENTERS, AS OCCURRED IN THIS STUDY, COULD HELP SPEED THE PACE OF DISCOVERY. THE NEW STUDY IS PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL MOLECULAR PSYCHIATRY. I’M JIM DRYDEN…

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