Tics and Emotions

Gerry Leisman, Dana Sheldon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Tics can be associated with neurological disorders and are thought to be the result of dysfunctional basal ganglia pathways. In Tourette Syndrome (TS), excess dopamine in the striatum is thought to excite the thalamo-cortical circuits, producing tics. When external stressors activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, more dopamine is produced, furthering the excitation of tic-producing pathways. Emotional processing structures in the limbic are also activated during tics, providing further evidence of a possible emotional component in motor ticking behaviors. The purpose of this review is to better understand the relationship between emotional states and ticking behavior. We found support for the notion that premonitory sensory phenomena (PSP), sensory stimulation, and other environmental stressors that impact the HPA axis can influence tics through dopaminergic neurotransmission. Dopamine plays a vital role in cognition and motor control and is an important neurotransmitter in the pathophysiology of other disorders such as obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which tend to be comorbid with ticking disorders and are thought to use similar pathways. It is concluded that there is an emotional component to ticking behaviors. Emotions primarily involving anxiety, tension, stress, and frustration have been associated with exacerbated tics, with PSP contributing to these feelings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number242
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 10 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Basal ganglia
  • Dopamine
  • Emotions
  • HPA axis
  • Premonitory sensory phenomena
  • Tics
  • Tourette syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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