OCD: Brain mechanism explains symptoms

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Treatments for OCD include medication, psychotherapy, and deep brain stimulation. However, not everyone responds to treatment.

In fact, reference studies have found that only 50 percent of people with OCD get better with treatment, and just 10 percent recover fully.

This treatment ineffectiveness is partly down to the fact that medical professionals still do not fully understand the neurological roots of the condition. A new study, however, aims to fill this gap in research.

Scientists led by Luke Norman, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor, corroborated and analyzed large amounts of data from existing studies on the neurological underpinnings of OCD.

The scientists published their meta-analysis in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Specifically, the researchers zeroed in on a brain circuit called the “cingulo-opercular network.” This network involves several brain regions that are interconnected by neuronal pathways in the center of the brain.

Studies have previously associated the cingulo-opercular network with “tonic alertness” or “vigilance.” In other words, areas in this brain circuit are “on the lookout” for potential errors and can call off an action to avoid an undesirable outcome.

Most of the functional MRI studies included by Norman and colleagues in their review had volunteers respond to errors while inside the brain scanner.

An analysis of data from the various studies revealed a salient pattern: Compared with people who did not have OCD, those with the condition displayed significantly more activity in brain areas associated with recognizing an error, but less activity in the brain regions that could stop an action.

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