Enhanced habit formation in Gilles de la Tourette syndrome

Brain. 2016 Feb;139(Pt 2):605-15. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv307. Epub 2015 Oct 21.


Tics are sometimes described as voluntary movements performed in an automatic or habitual way. Here, we addressed the question of balance between goal-directed and habitual behavioural control in Gilles de la Tourette syndrome and formally tested the hypothesis of enhanced habit formation in these patients. To this aim, we administered a three-stage instrumental learning paradigm to 17 unmedicated and 17 antipsychotic-medicated patients with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome and matched controls. In the first stage of the task, participants learned stimulus-response-outcome associations. The subsequent outcome devaluation and 'slip-of-action' tests allowed evaluation of the participants' capacity to flexibly adjust their behaviour to changes in action outcome value. In this task, unmedicated patients relied predominantly on habitual, outcome-insensitive behavioural control. Moreover, in these patients, the engagement in habitual responses correlated with more severe tics. Medicated patients performed at an intermediate level between unmedicated patients and controls. Using diffusion tensor imaging on a subset of patients, we also addressed whether the engagement in habitual responding was related to structural connectivity within cortico-striatal networks. We showed that engagement in habitual behaviour in patients with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome correlated with greater structural connectivity within the right motor cortico-striatal network. In unmedicated patients, stronger structural connectivity of the supplementary motor cortex with the sensorimotor putamen predicted more severe tics. Overall, our results indicate enhanced habit formation in unmedicated patients with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. Aberrant reinforcement signals to the sensorimotor striatum may be fundamental for the formation of stimulus-response associations and may contribute to the habitual behaviour and tics of this syndrome.

Keywords: Gilles de la Tourette syndrome; dopamine; goal-directed behaviour; habitual behaviour; structural connectivity of cortico-striatal networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Habits*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Tourette Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Tourette Syndrome / psychology*