Crawford S, Channon S, Robertson MM. Tourette’s syndrome: performance on tests of behavioural inhibition, working memory and gambling. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Dec;46(12):1327-36.
Background: Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with fronto-striatal dysfunction. There is debate as to the extent to which TS is associated with cognitive impairment. Some authors argue that any impairments seen are attributable to comorbid psychiatric symptomatology, whilst others have suggested that uncomplicated TS is associated with mild deficits limited primarily to inhibitory processes. The present study was designed to examine this issue using carefully screened participants with TS and experimental measures thought to involve different areas of the frontal lobes.
Methods: Adolescents with TS who were screened for comorbid psychiatric disorder were compared with a healthy control group on a set of executive measures. Two tasks involving behavioural inhibition were used: a Sentence Completion task in which sentences had to be completed first with straightforward and then with nonsensical endings, and a Flanker task in which a central stimulus was surrounded by either compatible or incompatible flankers. Working memory was assessed using an N-back task, and reward learning was assessed using a Gambling task. Both accuracy and reaction times were measured for each task.
Results: The TS group differed significantly from the control group on both the Sentence Completion task and on the Flanker task. On the Sentence Completion task, they were slower to make both sensible and nonsensical completions, and they had higher error scores on the nonsensical completions. On the Flanker task, the TS participants were less accurate than the control group, since they were poorer on the incompatible but not the compatible trials. A similar interaction with trial type was found for speed, where the TS participants were slowed more by the incompatible versus compatible trials, although overall their performance tended to be faster than the controls. The TS group did not differ significantly from the control group on measures of working memory or reward learning.
Conclusions: The findings provide further evidence that uncomplicated TS is not associated with widespread executive impairments. However, it was not clear that any differences between the groups could be attributed solely to selective inhibitory impairment.