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J Child Neurol. 2006 Aug;21(8):642-9.

Tourette syndrome: the self under siege.

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  • 1Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


Tourette syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics--rapid, repetitive, stereotyped movements or vocalizations. Tourette syndrome typically has a prepubertal onset, and boys are more commonly affected than girls. Symptoms usually begin with transient bouts of simple motor tics. By age 10 years, most children are aware of nearly irresistible somatosensory urges that precede the tics. These urges likely reflect a defect in sensorimotor gating because they intrude into the child's conscious awareness and become a source of distraction and distress. A momentary sense of relief typically follows the completion of a tic. Over the course of hours, tics occur in bouts, with a regular intertic interval. Tics increase during periods of emotional excitement and fatigue. Tics can become "complex" in nature and appear to be purposeful. Tics can be willfully suppressed for brief intervals and can be evoked by the mere mention of them. Tics typically diminish during periods of goal-directed behavior, especially those that involve both heightened attention and fine motor or vocal control, as occur in musical and athletic performances. Over the course of months, tics wax and wane. New tics appear, often in response to new sources of somatosensory irritation, such as the appearance of a persistent vocal tic (a cough) following a cold. Over the course of years, tic severity typically peaks between 8 and 12 years of age. By the end of the second decade of life, many individuals are virtually tic free. Less than 20% of cases continue to experience clinically impairing tics as adults. Tics rarely occur in isolation, and other coexisting conditions--such as behavioral disinhibition, hypersensitivity to a broad range of sensory stimuli, problems with visual motor integration, procedural learning difficulties, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and emotional instability--are often a greater source of impairment than the tics themselves. Emerging behavioral treatments of Tourette syndrome are based in part on an understanding of the moment-to-moment experience of somatosensory urges and motor response. With identification of specific genes of major effect and advances in our understanding of the neural circuitry of sensorimotor gating, habit formation, and procedural memory--together with insights from postmortem brain studies, in vivo brain imaging, and electrophysiologic recordings--we might be on the threshold of a deeper understanding of the phenomenology and natural history of Tourette syndrome.

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