Taming Tourette Scientists Believe They Are Close to a Breakthrough That Could Help Control the Odd Movements and Bizarre Utterances That Mark the Disease

Article excerpt

Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

The often misunderstood neurological disorder made headlines last month when a Downers Grove condominium association tried to oust a resident with Tourette. Jeffrey Marthon's neighbors said his hooting and stomping sounds made their lives unbearable. They filed a lawsuit to evict him from the home he's lived in for more than 12 years.

Gary Goldsand just wanted to see a movie with his buddy.

As he sat there in the quiet, dark theater, an uncontrollable urge welled up inside him.

Goldsand, a high school student at the time, tried to suppress it, but it came on as powerful as a sneeze.

He couldn't hold it in, so he let it out.

He swore.

Then he swore again.

His friend pleaded with him to stop cussing, but it was as futile as telling raindrops to stop falling.

"We got kicked out of the theater," recalled Goldsand, who is now 56 years old and living in Arlington Heights.

"High school definitely was a tough time for me," he added. "You really want to fit in, but I never could."

Fitting in can be a huge struggle for people like Goldsand, who has Tourette syndrome.

The often misunderstood neurological disorder that causes people to make strange sounds and movements made headlines last month when a Downers Grove condominium association tried to oust a resident with Tourette.

Jeffrey Marthon's neighbors said his hooting and stomping sounds made their lives unbearable. They filed a lawsuit to evict him from the home he's lived in for more than 12 years.

In a bid to keep his condo, Marthon, 53, filed his own lawsuit in federal court. A hearing is set for next week.

Marthon's case illustrates how difficult the disorder can be for those saddled with it - an estimated 125,000 to 250,000 people in the United States.

Compounding their difficulty is the fact that many Tourette sufferers spend a good portion of their lives not knowing what's wrong with them; not knowing that there's medication that might help suppress the "tics" that leave them feeling like social outcasts.

There is no cure for Tourette, but treatments are getting better as doctors understand more about this baffling disorder.

Scientists think they're closer than ever to pinpointing genetic markers responsible for the syndrome. They plan to publish their results later this year in a medical journal.

Solving the genetic mystery could lead to treatment breakthroughs.

"This is the best information that we've ever had in terms of the actual location of a gene or genes for TS (Tourette syndrome)," said David Pauls, a Yale Child Study Center population geneticist. "It is a major step forward."

* * *

Experts don't know for sure what causes the disorder named for Gilles de la Tourette, a French neurologist who first described the condition little more than a century ago.

Tourette manifests itself in the form of repeated, involuntary body movements - blinking eyes, twitching mouth, waving hands - and uncontrollable vocal sounds, from grunts and tongue clicking to words.

Symptoms almost always emerge well before people reach age 18.

While their tics are involuntary, Touretters sometimes can wield a degree of control over them. They might be able to hold in a tic for a few seconds or even a couple hours.

The more stressed out they are, the harder that is to do.

And it's not like the urge goes away. It just builds up. They might have to go somewhere and let their pent-up tics out all at once.

While experts haven't narrowed down a specific cause of Tourette, they do know at least part of the answer usually is rooted in people's family trees.

Patients are born with genes that predispose them to full-blown Tourette, or a milder tic disorder or obsessive compulsive behavior, for example. …