By On July 21st, 2008

Brain Activity Shows Susceptibility to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A recent study pinpointed a region of the brain affected in those with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). According to the study published in the July 18 issue of Science, an area of the brain associated with unlearning behavior and allowing for flexibility in behavior, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, was under active in the brain’s of participants who were diagnosed with OCD or in unaffected relatives. The researchers believe that MRI scans measuring activity in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex could be useful for future research; however, they will most likely not be used for common screening of OCD as other detection tools are highly successful. The following is an excerpt of an article from Medpage Today that discusses the study:

Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and their unaffected relatives showed less activity in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex on functional MRI compared with controls, reported Samuel R. Chamberlain, Ph.D., of the University of Cambridge, and colleagues in the July 18 issue of Science.

These findings from a small, case-control study suggest that this and related brain regions have an impact not only on day-to-day flexibility — which involves the ability to suppress intrusive thoughts and repetitive rituals — but also development of these pathologic compulsions, the researchers said.

Reduced function in brain areas related to unlearning may be a marker for vulnerability to obsessive-compulsive disorder “that exists in people at increased genetic risk, even in the absence of chronic treatment or symptom confounders,” they wrote.
This kind of marker would likely be limited to research use for now since imaging is not needed for diagnosis or treatment decisions, commented Kenneth M. Heilman, M.D., of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., who was not involved in the study.
The disorder often runs in families, with first-degree relatives of patients at up to an eight-fold risk of developing symptoms themselves.
But because little progress has been made in finding responsible genes, researchers have been looking for brain-based markers as objective, measurable traits.

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