Brain Inflammation Linked to OCD, Study Suggests

Brain inflammation appears to be significantly higher in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) than those without the condition, according to a study published this week in JAMA Psychiatry.

“This finding represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding the biology of OCD, and may lead to novel therapeutic treatments,” senior author Jeffrey H. Meyer, M.D., Ph.D., said in a press release. Meyer is the head of the Neurochemical Imaging Program in Mood and Anxiety at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

A new direction for developing treatments for OCD is welcomed because about one-third of patients with OCD do not adequately respond to current medications, such as antidepressants, according to the authors.

Meyer and colleagues recruited 20 people with OCD and 20 age-matched healthy controls for the study. The participants were all in good physical health, were not taking medications, and were between the ages of 19 and 48. None of the participants had a history of autoimmune disease or neurologic illness or injury. Psychiatric disorders and OCD were confirmed using the Structured Clinical Interview of DSM-IV.

All participants underwent a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, using a fluorine dye to measure a marker of microglial activity in six brain regions (dorsal caudate, orbitofrontal cortex, thalamus, ventral striatum, dorsal putamen, and anterior cingulate cortex). Activated microglia (immune cells) are known to trigger neuroinflammation.

The researchers found that in people with OCD, inflammation was on average 32% higher in these regions than among those without the condition.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating inflammation within the neurocircuitry of OCD,” Meyer and colleagues wrote. “Although pharmaceutical development does not traditionally prioritize OCD, neuromodulatory treatments under development for other diseases associated with microglial activation, such as Alzheimer disease, might be repurposed toward OCD.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Report Highlights Alternative Treatment Options for OCD.”

Live Mentally Healthy,
Dr. Jennie Byrne

Author
Dr. Jennie Byrne, M.D., PhD. With over 15 years of medical expertise, Jennie Byrne, MD, PhD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with experience treating mental health conditions in adults, including dementia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression. After practicing in New York City for 12 years, Dr. Byrne relocated to North Carolina in 2008; she currently cares for patients in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill. Dr. Byrne earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She then received her doctorate from New York University Department of Neurophysiology. She also has a doctorate of medicine from New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Byrne went on to complete a psychiatry residency at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. In addition to her work as a psychiatrist, Dr. Byrne has performed extensive research on attention, memory, and depression. As a board-certified adult psychiatrist, Dr. Byrne focuses on the needs of each patient to pro

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