Tourette syndrome, also known as Gilles De La Tourette Syndrome or simply Tourette’s, is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder of the central nervous system with onset in childhood, characterized by physical and vocal tics, which often wax and wane, and, less commonly but more publicized, the spontaneous utterance of socially objectionable or taboo words or phrases, or the repetition of others’ words. It has been described, by both patients and neurologists, as a lack of stop signs in the brain. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often (but not necessarily) associated with Tourette’s.

Did You Know?
Muscle memory, also known as motor learning, is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a physical movement is repeated over time, long-term memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort, and decreasing the need for attention.

Tourette’s appears to be related to the skill-acquisition process that ties stimuli to responses during the learning part of procedural memory (memory of skills and how things work). Physiologically, it involves changes in the sub-cortical brain area known as the striatum, and its interaction with the basal ganglia due to abnormalities in the way that hormones and neurotransmitters mediate communication between nerve cells in the brain.

Although aspects of procedural memory may be abnormal in Tourette’s, declarative memory (memory of facts and events) remains largely spared. For example, “rule-governed” knowledge (used in language, for example, to combine parts of words together according to the grammatical rules of the language), which involves the procedural memory system, is affected, whereas “idiosyncratic” knowledge (which allows us to learn that a word is linked to an object), which depends on declarative memory and is learned and processed in the hippocampus and other temporal lobe areas in the brain, is not. Indeed, children with Tourette’s are sometimes faster and better than typically developing children at certain aspects of language.