Dr. Kevin J. Black at Washington University is conducting a study to learn whether we can use
MRI scans to test dopamine function in the brain and to determine whether the brain performs
memory tasks differently in Tourette Syndrome (TS). TS is a movement disorder characterized
by vocal tics (sounds) and motor tics (movements). We will measure how and where brain
activity changes using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans during memory tasks and after
taking levodopa. Levodopa is a drug commonly used for the treatment of Parkinson's disease
(PD), a very different movement disorder.
Clinical observations suggest that in TS there is abnormal function in the brain's motor
system that can be modified by manipulating dopamine. My colleagues and I have hypothesized
that nonmotor brain systems may also show dopamine-sensitive functional abnormalities.
Recently we tested this hypothesis using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A
cognitive task involving working memory (WM) produced excessive activation of several brain
regions in TS subjects compared to controls, but this excessive activation normalized after
administering the dopamine precursor levodopa (Hershey et al, 2004).
We can state the following focused hypotheses and corresponding specific aims:
(1) In TS, normal performance during a working memory (WM) task requires greater activation
of specific brain regions (parietal cortex, medial frontal cortex and thalamus) than in
control subjects, and this excess fMRI response is reduced (improved) by exogenous levodopa.
(2) These fMRI results in TS relate specifically to WM, to TS, and to dopamine receptor
activation, rather than to non-WM components of the cognitive task, comorbidity, placebo
effects, or other confounds.
Specific Aim 1. Test whether the preliminary fMRI results generalize to a larger and more
representative sample of adults with TS.
Specific Aim 2. Clarify the variables that interact to produce the differential fMRI
responses to a WM task and levodopa observed in TS subjects vs controls.
2a. Task components. Control for non-WM components of the task and delineate a
"dose-response" curve for effects of WM load on fMRI responses.
2b. Clinical variables. Test whether the fMRI results in our preliminary data are associated
with TS itself rather than with comorbid conditions, treatment history, demographic
variables, or state variables such as current tic severity / tic suppression.
2c. Pharmacology. Test whether the post-levodopa changes in WM-related fMRI signal relate
specifically to levodopa plasma concentration (rather than practice effects, placebo effects,
or passage of time) and are replicated by a nonselective dopamine receptor agonist or by a
dopamine D2/D3/D4 agonist.
- Age 18-55.
- Tic subjects must meet DSM-IV-TR criteria for a chronic tic disorder.
- Controls are matched for age (within 4 years), sex, handedness (right-handed,
non-right-handed), and education (within 2 years), and if possible for race and
- Inability to give competent informed consent.
- Lactation, pregnancy or possibility of pregnancy.
- Contraindication to MRI (pacemaker; nontrivial metallic foreign bodies; significant
- Contraindication to levodopa or carbidopa (known allergy).
- Significant neurological disease (not counting the tic disorder).
- Current renal, cardiac or hepatic disease that would make study participation less
- Head injury with loss of consciousness for more than 5 minutes or with neurological
- Lifetime history of serious lifetime psychopathology or substance abuse. (Specific
exclusions are: lifetime diagnosis of mental retardation, autism, psychosis, mania,
somatization disorder, panic disorder, social phobia [excludes symptoms present only
when treated with a neuroleptic], anorexia nervosa or bulimia, drug or alcohol
dependence, antisocial personality disorder, or dementia, or current major
- Depot neuroleptics in the past 6 months.
- Other antipsychotics within the past 2 weeks.
- Behavioral therapy for Tics of OCD sx in the past 2 weeks.
- For one half of the subjects in each diagnostic group: any brain-active medications
within the past 2 weeks. For the remaining subjects: neuroactive medications in the
past 2 weeks other than SSRIs, alpha-2 agonists, norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors,
- Additional exclusions for controls: No history of tic disorder, OCD or ADHD. If under
age 25, no first-degree relative with a tic disorder. No exposure to neuroleptics in
the past year and none ever for a period exceeding a week.