BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Gilles de la Tourette syndrome (GTS) is a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by tics. A hallmark of GTS is the ability to voluntarily suppress tics. Our aim was to distinguish the neural circuits involved in the voluntary suppression of ocular tics in GTS patients from blink suppression in healthy subjects.
METHODS: Fifteen GTS patients and 22 healthy control subjects were included in a multimodal study using eye-tracker recordings during functional MRI (fMRI). The ability to suppress tics/blinks was compared both on subjective (self-rating) and objective (eye-tracker) performance. For fMRI analysis we used a novel designed performance-adapted block design analysis of tic/blink suppression and release based on eye-tracker monitoring.
RESULTS: We found that the subjective self-reported ability to suppress tics or blinks showed no significant correlation with objective task performance. In GTS during successful suppression of tics, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and associated limbic areas showed increased activation. During successful suppression of eye blinks in healthy subjects, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and supplementary and cingulate motor areas showed increased activation.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate that GTS patients use a characteristic limbic suppression strategy. In contrast, control subjects use the voluntary sensorimotor circuits and the classical 'stop' network to suppress natural urges. The employment of different neural suppression networks provides support for cognitive behavioral therapy in GTS.