Children with Tourette syndrome (TS) often have comorbid disorders, particularly attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While subtle premorbid symptoms have been described in various psychiatric disorders, the presence of clinical precursors that may exist before the onset of tics is unknown. This longitudinal study aimed to find clinical precursors of tics by assessing a range of clinical characteristics prior to tic onset in comparison with children without onset of tics.
A sample of 187 3- to 10-year-old first-degree unaffected relatives of children with TS were followed up to 7 years in the European Multicentre Tics in Children Study (EMTICS). We investigated whether clinical characteristics assessed at baseline predicted tic onset, comparing 126 children without tic onset to 61 children who developed tics. We used the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) method, a penalised logistic regression approach. We also explored sex differences and repeated our analyses in an age- and sex-matched subsample.
Children with tic onset were more frequently male (β = −0.36), had higher baseline severity of conduct problems (β = 0.23), autism spectrum disorder symptoms (ASD; β = 0.08), compulsions (β = 0.02) and emotional problems (β = 0.03) compared to children without tic onset. Conduct and ASD problems were male-specific predictors, whereas severity of compulsions and oppositional (β = 0.39) and emotional problems were female-specific predictors.
This study supports the presence of clinical precursors prior to tic onset and highlights the need of sex-specific monitoring of children at risk of developing tics. This may aid in the earlier detection of tics, particularly in females. We moreover found that tics most often persisted one year after tic onset, in contrast to the common belief that tics are mostly transient.