For the first time, scientists have discovered distinct brain patterns in individuals with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and close family members. This discovery could lead to more effective identification and diagnosis of individuals who are at risk of developing the disorder which is known to run in families.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a prevalent illness that affects 2–3 % of the population. OCD patients suffer from obsessions (unwanted, recurrent thoughts, concerns with themes of contamination and ‘germs', the need to check household items in case of fire or burglary, the symmetrical order of objects or fears of harming oneself or others) as well as compulsions (repetitive behaviours related to the obsessions such as washing and carrying out household safety checks). These symptoms can consume the patient's life, causing severe distress, alienation and anxiety.
The research involved OCD patients and healthy close family members as well as a control group of unrelated healthy individuals.
Researchers at Cambridge University used both MRI and a computerized test that measured the ability of the participant to stop repetitive behaviors. Those with OCD and their family members scored worse on the test. This was associated with decreases of grey matter in brain regions important in suppressing responses and habits.
Lara Menzies, in the Brain Mapping Unit at the University of Cambridge, explains, “Impaired brain function in the areas of the brain associated with stopping motor responses may contribute to the compulsive and repetitive behaviours that are characteristic of OCD. These brain changes appear to run in families and may represent a genetic risk factor for developing the condition. The current diagnosis of OCD available to psychiatrists is subjective and therefore knowledge of the underlying causes may lead to better diagnosis and ultimately improved clinical treatments.
Brain pattern associated with genetic risk of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder