Michael Ullman, PhD, Georgetown University, Washington DC

Recent evidence suggests that children with TS may show enhanced procedural memory performance. Procedural memory, which underlies numerous motor and cognitive skills, such as driving and grammar, is rooted in certain brain circuits affected in TS. In this project, Dr. Ullman and team will comprehensively examine procedural memory, the brain, and clinical correlates in children with Tourette Syndrome. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this enhanced memory could result in the development of novel therapies targeting these pathways.

The constant attempt to suppress these tics relies on the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area closely associated with self-control, working memory and motor regulation. Interestingly, this chronic struggle leads to enhanced cognitive control, at least on certain tasks. Consider a 2006 study led researchers at the University of Nottingham. The experiment involved a challenging eye-movement task, in which subjects were forced to actively inhibit automatic eye movements. Here's where the results get strange: individuals with Tourette's made significantly fewer error responses than their "neurologically normal" peers, without a decrease in speed. The scientists speculate that this result "likely reflects a compensatory change in Tourette individuals whereby the chronic suppression of tics results in a generalized suppression of reflexive behavior in favor of increased cognitive control." In other words, the struggle makes us stronger.

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