Out of the ordinary

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Life depends on chemical signals. Without them our heart wouldn't know how to beat or our thoughts how to form, our eyes would be unable to see, our legs unable to walk and our mouths would be incapable of speech. Each of these actions - whether we are consciously aware of them or not - depend on chemical signals that shoot through our body at lightning speed, sending information to our brain which reads it and reacts to it by firing back signals that involve an action of some sort. Sometimes, however, the signalling process is hindered giving rise to bizarre neuropsychiatric disorders. One such disorder is known as Tourette Syndrome, or TS. TS is characterised by various tics, one of which is the very intriguing and involuntary outburst of obscene words or remarks that are socially inappropriate and offensive - a tic known as coprolalia. In the past 30 years, it has become apparent that TS is caused by genetic and environmental factors, although scientists were having troubling pinning down the genetic culprit. Until recently when a protein known as SLIT and NTRK-like protein 1 - or Slitrk1 - proved to have a direct role in this odd disorder.

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