Purdue University Announces TS Genetics Study

Researchers at Purdue University have been working to find a cure for Tourette syndrome since the neurological disorder was first documented in 1885. Purdue University’s progress in that work in recent years is now being rewarded with a $2.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for further TS research.

Mayo Clinic explains that Tourette syndrome is a disorder that involves repetitive movements or unwanted sounds (tics) that can’t be easily controlled. For instance, you might repeatedly blink your eyes, shrug your shoulders, or blurt out unusual sounds or offensive words. 

Tics typically show up between the ages of 2 and 15, with the average being around 6 years of age. Males are about three to four times more likely than females to develop Tourette syndrome. 

Although there’s no cure for Tourette syndrome, treatments are available. Many people with Tourette syndrome don’t need treatment when symptoms aren’t troublesome. Tics often lessen or become controlled after the teen years.

Mayo Clinic describes common motor tics as being either simple tics or complex tics. Simple tics are sudden, brief and repetitive tics that involve a limited number of muscle groups. Complex tics are distinct, coordinated patterns of movements that involve several muscle groups.

Purdue University stated that Peristera Paschou, professor of biological sciences and associate dean for graduate education and strategic initiatives for the College of Science, is the principal investigator for the new grant. She already is leading several worldwide TS research collaborations and is supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The new NIMH grant will allow her to oversee the largest neuroimaging and genetics studies for TS to date. She will coordinate the work of geneticists, neurologists, psychiatrists, child psychologists, brain-imaging experts, computer scientists and statisticians in 18 sites in nine countries. 

The study will pool, analyze and harmonize global genetic and brain-MRI data to shed greater light on Tourette syndrome neurobiology and also identify biomarkers that could help tailor individualized treatment approaches for patients. The effort builds on past progress by the world ENIGMA Consortium (Enhancing Neuroimaging through Meta-analysis). 

According to Purdue University, Tourette syndrome is estimated to affect 0.5-1% of the world’s population. Characterized by tics – sudden, repetitive, unwanted movements or vocal sounds – it typically begins in childhood. Tourettes syndrome also has highly common comrbidities – conditions that coexist with it to differing degrees – in 90% of its patients. These conditions include obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum  disorders, major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders.

Although Tourette syndrome has no known definitive cause, it is attributed to the interaction of multiple gene variations and environmental factors. Current treatments involve behavioral therapy or drug therapy, or a combination thereof. They often fall short because they frequently do not eliminate the tics or they cause unwanted side effects.

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