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Tourette Syndrome: New Hope Linked to Brain Chemical
- Updated: September 26, 2014
Researchers with the University of Nottingham identified a chemical in the brain that plays an important part in controlling vocal tics and involuntary movements in patients with Tourette syndrome. From this new study, a potentially new target for the development of better treatments used to suppress unwanted symptoms could be offered.
Researchers consisting of psychologists published the findings from this study in the current issue of the journal Current Biology. Led by Amelia Draper, PhD student, under the supervision of Professor Stephen Jackson, found that a neurochemical called GABA in the part of the brain known as the Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) was at higher levels. Because of this, hyperactivity in the cortical areas that cause movement weakened.
With the cortical areas weakened, only the strongest signals could get through to produce movement. According to Draper, this finding is significant because new techniques used to stimulate the brain can be used to increase or decrease GABA in that part of the brain. She added that by adjusting the levels of GABA, young people with Tourette syndrome would have better control over tics and movements.
Tourette syndrome is a type of developmental disorder linked to repetitive and involuntary vocal and movement tics. Currently, there is no known cause although research indicates that alterations in the brain’s circulatory system might have something to do with the production and control of motor functions.
Experts believe that both the primary motor cortex and supplementary motor area are hyperactive, thereby producing tics that are typically disruptive and embarrassing, specifically for children who struggle with concentration while in school. Some people with Tourette syndrome can control symptoms to a certain degree but this causes tremendous emotional and physical strain that ultimately makes tics worse and more frequent.
Most often, children diagnosed with Tourette syndrome learn to control ticks gradually until finally having only minor problems when entering adulthood but for others who have experienced broken friendships and issues during educational years, control is not possible.
Using a technique known as Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) in a Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner, scientists were able to measure level of concentration in neurotransmitters, which shows an indication of brain activity. Chemicals in the motor cortex, supplementary motor area, and the visual processing area, were measured for sake of comparison on a group of young people with this Tourette syndrome and a group without this disorder.
Researchers discovered that the people with Tourette syndrome had much higher concentrations of GABA, which in the supplementary motor area, inhibits neuronal activity. Additional neuroscience techniques were used for exploration, which uncovered that higher levels of GABA in that area of the brain equated to people with Tourette syndrome having less activity in the supplementary motor area when trying to perform a single task.
Researchers also considered the way that GABA related to brain structure, particularly white matter fiber bundles connecting two hemispheres of the brain known as corpus callosum. People with the highest levels of GABA had the greatest amount of connecting fibers. From this, they concluded that the more connecting fibers there are the more excitatory signals are produced, which in turn requires more GABA to calm the excessive hyperactivity.
Based on the findings of this study, Jackson stated that earlier information led professionals to think that GABA levels in Tourette syndrome patients would be decreased opposed instead of increased as proven.