Cambridge researchers have discovered that individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and their close family members have distinctive patterns in their brain structure. This is the first time that scientists have associated an anatomical trait with familial risk for the disorder.
These new findings, reported today in the journal Brain, could help predict whether individuals are at risk of developing OCD and lead to more accurate diagnosis of the disorder.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a prevalent illness that affects 23 % 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 patients life, causing severe distress, alienation and anxiety.
OCD is known to run in families. However, the complex set of genes underlying this heritability and exactly how genes contribute to the illness are unknown. Such genes may pose a risk for OCD by influencing brain structure (e.g. the amount and location of grey matter in the brain) which in turn may impact upon an individuals ability to perform mental tasks.
In order to explore this idea, the researchers used cognitive and brain measures to determine whether there are biological markers of genetic risk for developing OCD. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the Cambridge researchers captured pictures of OCD patients brains, as well as those of healthy close relatives (a sibling, parent or child) and a group of unrelated healthy people.
Participants also completed a computerised test that involved pressing a left or right button as quickly as possible when arrows appeared. When a beep noise so
|Contact: Genevieve Maul|
University of Cambridge