A Virtual Reality-based FMRI Study of Learning Systems in Children with TS

Grant Type
Grant Year
Institution Location
Institution Organization Name
Columbia University School of Medicine
Investigators Name
Marsh, Rachel, PhD

Neuroimaging studies suggest that the pathophysiology of Tourette syndrome (TS) involves disturbances of the basal ganglia and related Cortical-Striatal-Thalamo-Cortical (CSTC) circuitry, as well as limbic portions of these circuits. Our findings of smaller caudate volumes and impaired habit learning in children and adults with TS suggest that the neostriatal habit learning system is dysfunctional in persons who have this condition. Lesion studies of animals have shown this system to be anatomically and functionally distinct from neural systems that subserve spatial learning. This will be the first study to assess the functioning of multiple learning systems in children with TS. Using a novel, virtual reality-based functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) paradigm, the brain activity of 20 children with TS will be compared to that of 20 control children during their performance of tasks that require habit learning and reward-based spatial learning. These tasks are directly analogous to the behavioral tasks used to study learning and memory systems in rodents. Findings from this translational study will allow us to seek funding to examine the effects of treatments on the functioning of these systems in TS, and to study their functioning in the same children over time to determine whether disturbances in these systems may contribute to the habitual nature and progression of tics into adulthood. Rachel Marsh, Ph.D., Bradley S. Peterson, M.D. New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University School of Medicine, New York, NY Award: $75,000 Commentary: This study will use sophisticated imaging processing (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI) to compare the brain activity in 20 children with TS (ages 6-13) and 20 age-matched children without TS while performing certain learning and memory tasks. Differences between the two groups will indicate how the brains in children with TS functions differently to children without TS, and may lead to future investigations on the nature and progression of tics into adulthood. This award is funded by Karen, Alan and Michael Hart Tourette Association of America Inc. – Research Grant Award 2010-2011