Deep brain stimulation shows promise in Tourette syndrome

Scientists at New York University’s Langone Medical Center reported data from a study showing that deep brain stimulation (DBS) decreased the severity of tics for patients with severe Tourette syndrome.

Tourette is characterized by motor and vocal tics, or sudden, involuntary sounds or movements that a person may make. The FDA has OK’d DBS systems, such as those from Medtronic and St. Jude Medical, to treat Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, but DBS is not approved for treating Tourette.

DBS involves the implantation of a neurostimulator that sends electrical impulses via lead wires to specific parts of the brain. The NYU team investigated an experimental treatment called thalamic DBS. They inserted two electrodes in patients’ medial thalamus, the part of the brain that “functions abnormally” in people with Tourette, according to a statement.

In a second surgery, they placed a neurostimulator in the chest. In follow-up visits, the team adjusted the delivery of electrical impulses to find the best combination to control Tourette symptoms, according to the statement.

RELATED: Medtronic expands in Parkinson's with deep brain stim FDA approval

After six months of follow-up visits, all 13 patients reported that their symptoms had improved “much” or “very much” thanks to the surgery. The researchers quantified the severity of the patients’ tics before and after surgery using the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale (YGTSS). They found that tic severity dropped an average of 37%.

"Our study shows that deep brain stimulation is a safe, effective treatment for young adults with severe Tourette syndrome that cannot be managed with current therapies," said Alon Mogilner, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in NYU Langone’s departments of neurosurgery and anesthesiology and director of its Center for Neuromodulation, in the statement. "This treatment has the potential to improve the quality of life for patients who are debilitated through their teenage years and young adulthood."

There is no cure for Tourette syndrome, though medication and/or behavioral therapy may be prescribed for people with severe symptoms. Neurocrine reported earlier this year that its Ingrezza failed to beat placebo at improving YGTSS in a 124-patient trial.