What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD

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Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York made an interesting discovery recently, in that they may have found a gene that is linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD as it is more commonly referred to.

Molecular Biologists Dr Shahin Rafii, Dr Francis Lee and Dr Sergey Shmelkov were not looking at OCD at all but were actually investigating genes for stem cell research and in particular the function of a gene called Slitrk5.

To discover more about its function they developed mice that had this gene “knocked out” or disabled to see what affect it would have on the blood stream. They didn’t find any noticeable effect on the bloodstream but what they did find was somewhat surprising in that the mice started to become anxious and indulge in obsessive grooming behaviour similar to the obsessive hand washing and other ritualistic behaviour observed in people suffering from OCD. The mice were also extremely jumpy (anxious) when touched, more so than normal.

So the researchers decided to see what would happen if they gave the mice an anti-depressant, which they did, and discovered that the obsessive behaviour stopped. Furthermore, they also found that the brains of the mice had similar neural wiring to that found in OCD patients.

Previous studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging in people with OCD have shown that part of the frontal cortex involved in decision making is active in people with OCD. What the researchers discovered was that this very same area in the brains of the mice that had the Slitrk5 gene removed was extremely active too.  The researchers still don’t know the exact function of Slitrk5 but believe it could play a role in somehow balancing neural activity.

Of course we have to remember that human beings are much more complex than mice and we can hardly make an assumption based on a single experiment but the implications are interesting nonetheless and may point researchers in the right direction towards a better understanding of the nature of OCD.

The researchers are now looking to se if human patients with OCD have a mutation of the Slitrk5 gene. If so, there’s a lot of hope on the horizon for finding an effective treatment in the future.

This new animal model of OCD has been published online in the April 25th 2010 issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

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