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The Pathophysiology of Tics; An Evolving Story

[ Vol. 15 , Issue. 2 ]


Harvey S. Singer* and Farhan Augustine   Pages 92 - 123 ( 32 )


Background: Tics, defined as quick, rapid, sudden, recurrent, non-rhythmic motor movements or vocalizations are required components of Tourette Syndrome (TS) - a complex disorder characterized by the presence of fluctuating, chronic motor and vocal tics, and the presence of co-existing neuropsychological problems. Despite many advances, the underlying pathophysiology of tics/TS remains unknown.

Objective: To address a variety of controversies surrounding the pathophysiology of TS. More specifically: 1) the configuration of circuits likely involved; 2) the role of inhibitory influences on motor control; 3) the classification of tics as either goal-directed or habitual behaviors; 4) the potential anatomical site of origin, e.g. cortex, striatum, thalamus, cerebellum, or other(s); and 5) the role of specific neurotransmitters (dopamine, glutamate, GABA, and others) as possible mechanisms (Abstract figure).

Methods: Existing evidence from current clinical, basic science, and animal model studies are reviewed to provide: 1) an expanded understanding of individual components and the complex integration of the Cortico-Basal Ganglia-Thalamo-Cortical (CBGTC) circuit - the pathway involved with motor control; and 2) scientific data directly addressing each of the aforementioned controversies regarding pathways, inhibition, classification, anatomy, and neurotransmitters.

Conclusion: Until a definitive pathophysiological mechanism is identified, one functional approach is to consider that a disruption anywhere within CBGTC circuitry, or a brain region inputting to the motor circuit, can lead to an aberrant message arriving at the primary motor cortex and enabling a tic. Pharmacologic modulation may be therapeutically beneficial, even though it might not be directed toward the primary abnormality.


Pathophysiology, tics, neurotransmitters, CBGTC circuits, habitual behaviors.


Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD

Graphical Abstract:

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