A study by Yale University has shown that real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback (rt-fMRI-NF) could be beneficial in the treatment of Tourette syndrome.

Tourette syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disease that leads to repetitive movements or vocalisations known as tics, occurring in many adolescents.

In the study, Yale researchers leveraged fMRI to train patients to control their tics. Patients used the imaging technique to monitor the function of their brain in real-time.

Yale University radiology and biomedical imaging department associate professor Michelle Hampson has said that the non-invasive, neuroscience-based approach has been designed to train human brain function towards healthier patterns.

Previously, real-time fMRI was evaluated in various neurological disorders, including depression and Parkinson’s disease.

During the latest study, the technique was tested in Tourette syndrome patients aged 11-19 years with a specific frequency of tics measured using the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale.

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Participants were asked to alternately raise and lower activity in the supplementary motor area of the brain, the region related to tics in the condition. Brain activity was displayed as a real-time graph during brain imaging scans.

Compared to placebo and motivation effects without real neurofeedback, a significant decrease in tics was observed in patients who received training with real-time fMRI.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that neurofeedback could aid in the treatment of Tourette symptoms.

Yale Child Study Center associate professor Denis Sukhodolsky noted: “Currently, available treatments for tics in Tourette syndrome include behaviour therapy and pharmaceuticals but not everyone responds. This is the first study of its kind showing that rt-fMRI-NF has potential as a treatment for Tourette syndrome.”

While the study is currently small-scale, the team expects the results to promote further research.