Mind

Brain Scans Could Diagnose Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandJul 18, 2008 12:58 PM
hand-washing.jpg

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Both people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and their unaffected family members show decreased activity in a brain region that's key to decision-making, and researchers say the finding could help them identify people who are at risk of developing the disorder. In a new study, volunteers performed a task that required mental flexibility, as the correct response changed over time. Researchers used a functional MRI to take brain scans during the experiment, and found that people with OCD and their relatives showed decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.

The region, located behind the eyes, helps us make decisions and keeps compulsive behaviors, such as gambling and excessive drinking, in check. Some studies have found abnormalities in this region in people with OCD, but its role in the disorder is unclear [ScienceNow Daily News].

People with OCD typically have anxious and recurrent thoughts, and have ritualized behaviors like repetitive hand washing. The condition seems to run in families, but scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint the actual genetic underpinnings [HealthDay News]. This study, published

in the journal Science [subscription required], does not suggest that lowered activity in the orbitofrontal cortex causes OCD, since family members who don't have the disorder also showed less activity there. But study author

Samuel Chamberlain says it

"probably predisposes people to developing the compulsive rigid symptoms that are characteristic of OCD" [HealthDay News].

The findings could help identify people at risk to provide treatment before symptoms emerge, and lead to a biological marker to determine who is at greatest risk, he added [Reuters]. Currently, doctors diagnose the disorder by interviewing patients about their habits, which means OCD can't be identified until disruptive symptoms emerge.

Image: flickr/anna banana

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.