A recent study be presented at the First World Congress on Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders in London, UK has suggested the administration of cognitive behavioural therapy  (CBT) can normalise activity in the supplementary motor region of the brain in patients with Tourette’s syndrome and also reduces chronic tics. This is achieved through exercises and relaxation of muscles associated with tics.  Such findings are of paramount importance in future treatments for individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders.

 Tourette’s syndrome is defined to be an inherited neurological disorder characterised by chronic tics. A tic can be either an involuntary movement or vocalisation whereby an individual has no control over.

 “There is still no definitive explanation of the causes of this syndrome, but we know that tics are related to an impaired communication between the supplementary motor area – a region of the cerebral cortex – and deeper areas called the basal ganglia,” said Simon Morand-Beaulieu, a student in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Montreal, Canada.

 Although, individuals suffering with Tourette’s syndrome require no apparent treatment, tics can cause difficulties in their lives. More often, younger individuals are more prone to facing difficulties in socialising and learning. For that reason treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be beneficial.

 CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps a person to change unhelpful or unhealthy thinking habits, feelings and behaviours. CBT involves the use of practical self-help strategies, which are designed to bring about positive and immediate changes in the person’s quality of life.  Moreover, CBT enables control of such problems and focuses on providing a solution for it.

 In people with Tourette syndrome, CBT helps to normalize activity in the supplementary motor region of the brain by utilizing relaxation and exercises targeting muscles associated with tics.

As suggested by a study, CBT helps to normalize activity in the supplementary motor region activity of the brain by using relaxation and exercises targeting muscles associated with tics.

During this study, participants with Tourette’s syndrome were asked to complete a task which required the identification of a coloured arrow. The researchers noted overactivity in the supplementary motor region while there were deficits in the appropriate selection and preparation of the participants’ physical responses.

Following this task, the ‘Tourette syndrome’ cohort received CBT and then repeated the task. The researchers found that:

  • The Tourette syndrome cohort had reduced tics reduced and,
  • Brain functioning of the participants in the supplementary motor region was similar to that of participants without Tourette syndrome.

 A further finding noted by the researchers was that movement was inhibited there was over activity in the frontal region of the brain before and after CBT.   Study supervisor, Marc Lavoie suggests this could be due to an adaptive mechanism in patients’ experience when trying to inhibit their own tics. “As a result, they are able to perform as well as participants without [Tourette syndrome] during tasks requiring cognitive control, but at the cost of greater frontal cortex activity.”, Lavooie commented.

“This could be an adaptive mechanism deriving from the patients’ experience of inhibiting their own tics,” explains study supervisor Marc Lavoie, a researcher at the Institut universitaire en sane mental de Montréal. “As a result, they are able to perform as well as participants without [Tourette syndrome] during tasks requiring cognitive control, but at the cost of greater frontal cortex activity.”

The researchers believe that their findings will help improve therapeutic strategies for the treatment of Tourette syndrome.