Bradley Hospital Enrolling Teens with Tic Disorder for Research Study

December 14, 2015

MindThe Pediatric Anxiety Research Center at Bradley Hospital has begun enrolling teens for a study focused on the relationship between brain activity and tics – sudden sounds or movements of the body that a person cannot control – in hopes of developing a more effective treatment. 

Tics are the most common movement disorder in children. Up to 20 percent of youth will have tics at some point, and one percent will have chronic tics lasting at least one year. Tics can be associated with many challenges, including physical pain, bullying or teasing, poor self-esteem, academic problems and family conflict. Nearly 80 percent of youth with tics also have other emotional and behavioral difficulties, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Currently there is no cure for tic disorders. Existing treatments for tics are designed to improve tic suppression, but are not highly effective for many children.

“Previous research has shown that a part of the brain called the supplementary motor area (SMA) is overactive in people with tics. The SMA is very important in selecting a motor action that is appropriate for a given situation,” said Christine Conelea, PhD, principal investigator for the study. “We also know from previous studies that environment can affect tic expression. For example, some kids have worse tics when they are in a place that is overstimulating or when people make comments about tics. However, we don’t yet understand how the SMA and the environment interact in tics. Our goal is to learn if we can improve tics by reducing activity in the SMA, while also creating an environment that supports teens’ efforts to suppress.”

The study will include teens between the ages of 13 and 18 who have a tic disorder or Tourette syndrome. The study involves an assessment of symptoms, an MRI brain scan and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

“TMS research involves holding a hand-sized magnet over someone’s scalp, which can either temporarily inhibit or activate the brain cells underneath. We are using TMS to learn if temporarily reducing the overactivity in the SMA makes tics easier to suppress,” said Conelea. “Afterward, we look at how often the teens had tics right before and after the TMS.”

Previous research on tic treatment has always examined the separate effects of either a biological treatment, such as medication or TMS, or a behavioral treatment, such as behavior therapy. By better understanding how the brain and environment interact to influence tic suppression, the study team hopes to pave the way for the development of new treatments that involve a combined behavioral and biological approach.

To learn more about this study, please call 401-432-1468 or visit