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Motor excitability is reduced prior to voluntary movements in children and adolescents with Tourette syndrome

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Professor Stephen R. Jackson, School of Psychology, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK (e-mail: Stephen.jackson@nottingham.ac.uk).

Abstract

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by the occurrence of motor and vocal tics: involuntary, repetitive, stereotyped behaviours that occur with a limited duration, often typically many times in a single day. Previous studies suggest that children and adolescents with TS may undergo compensatory, neuroplastic changes in brain structure and function that help them gain control over their tics. In the current study we used single-pulse and dual-site paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in conjunction with a manual choice reaction time task that induces high levels of inter-manual conflict, to investigate this conjecture in a group of children and adolescents with TS, but without co-morbid Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). We found that performance on the behavioural response-conflict task did not differ between the adolescents with TS and a group of age-matched typically developing individuals. By contrast, our study demonstrated that cortical excitability, as measured by TMS-induced motor-evoked potentials (MEPs), was significantly reduced in the TS group in the period immediately preceding a finger movement. This effect is interpreted as consistent with previous suggestions that the cortical hyper-excitability that may give rise to tics in TS is actively suppressed by cognitive control mechanisms. Finally, we found no reliable evidence for altered patterns of functional inter-hemispheric connectivity in TS. These results provide evidence for compensatory brain reorganization that may underlie the increased self-regulation mechanisms that have been hypothesized to bring about the control of tics during adolescence.

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