Purdue gets grant from mental health organization

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue’s research into the cause and cure of Tourette’s Syndrome will be funded by a $2.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Peristera Paschou, professor of biological sciences and associate dean for higher education and strategic initiatives at the College of Science, is the principal investigator for further study of the syndrome.

Paschou leads several of Tourette’s global research collaborations. His work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Her previous work includes co-authoring a groundbreaking 2017 study that was the first in the world to identify Tourette syndrome risk genes. In 2021, she led a study that uncovered more about the common genetic basis of Tourette’s neurodevelopmental disorders.

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This NIMH grant will enable the largest neuroimaging and genetics studies of Tourette syndrome to date, according to Purdue. His work will be coordinated with the work of geneticists, neurologists, psychiatrists, child psychiatrists, brain imaging experts, computer scientists and statisticians at 18 sites in nine countries.

Paschou’s study will collect and analyze global genetic and brain MRI data to further research the neurobiology of Tourette syndrome. This research can identify biomarkers that will help tailor individualized treatments for different patients.

“The effort builds on past progress by the global ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-analysis) consortium,” Purdue’s statement said. “Key team members include co-investigators from the University of Southern California, Professors Paul Thompson and Neda Jahanshad, and Kevin Black from Washington University in St. Louis.”

Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by sudden, repetitive movements or vocal sounds; usually beginning in childhood. While Tourette’s syndrome affects approximately 0.5-1% of the world’s population, in 90% of these cases co-existing conditions are also diagnosed. These conditions typically include obsessive compulsive disorder; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; autism spectrum disorders; major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, according to Purdue.

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“What we and others have shown very recently is that this very high comorbidity may, in fact, be due to a common genetic cause,” Paschou said. “So some of the same genes play a role and drive all of these symptoms. Understanding Tourette syndrome will also help us understand other disorders that fall within the so-called impulsivity-compulsivity spectrum of phenotypes.

There is currently no known definitive cause of Tourette syndrome, but it is attributed to multiple genetic variations and environmental factors. Current treatments include behavioral and drug therapies.

Paschou looks forward to the successes this five-year research initiative may bring.

“We would have a much clearer picture of the parts of the brain that play a role in causing Tourette’s symptoms. And we would have a clearer picture of the genes responsible for the brain abnormalities that underlie this disorder and its comorbidities…

“All of this genetic work is intended to help uncover targets for potential therapies, and also to help guide the diagnosis and management of any of these related disorders,” she said. “Everything we do is driven by the goal of eventually increasing the quality of life for patients and their families. We do all of this work for them.

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