Copyright © PiN



The discovery of tics: a spectacular history


Research Institute on the History of Biomedical Thought, Monza

School of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milan-Bicocca, Milan, Italy












Progress in Neuroscience 2013; 1 (1-4): 111-116.

doi: 10.14588/PiN.2013.Sironi.111







Singular forms of expression (verbal and motor tics), sometimes accompanied by more complex oral and gestural manifestations, were long considered mere biographical curiosities, and were only at a later date studied as pathological symptoms in a medical context. The term ‘tic’ has a precise onomatopoeic significance; it reflects a sharp snap, and was used in veterinary medicine from the latter half of the 17th century to describe the symptoms of a respiratory disease in horses. By the 1800s, clinical observation revealed that this “twitching” behaviour also occurred in man. At this time, the growing interest in the brain coincided with the first stirrings of medical nosography. In this climate, the French physician Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard (1775-1838) described, in 1825, the peculiar behaviour of the Marquis de Dampiere, a French noblewoman afflicted by numerous complex phonic and gestural tics. It was also around this time that “the father of Neurology”, Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1896), began to distinguish between clinical conditions that were caused by organic, neurological phenomena, like epilepsy, and those that were, instead, manifestations of psychological malaise, as hysteria. In 1885, Charcot’s favourite pupil, George Gilles de la Tourette (1857-1904), after careful observation of the signs and symptoms of ticcing patients admitted to the Salpêtrière hospital, described the “maladie des tics” we now know today as Tourette syndrome.

KEY WORDS: History of Medicine, Tics, Tourette syndrome.










Articles from Progress in Neuroscience are provided here courtesy of

SNO & new MAGAZINE s.r.l.



Cited by





 Progress in Neuroscience - ISSN 2240-5135 - Copyright  © 2011-2015 SNO & new MAGAZINE s.r.l. - Italy