Researchers discover brain inflammation in people with OCD

June 21, 2017
Credit: copyright American Heart Association

A new brain imaging study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows for the first time that brain inflammation is significantly elevated - more than 30 per cent higher - in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) than in people without the condition. Published today in JAMA Psychiatry, the study provides compelling evidence for a new potential direction for treating this anxiety disorder, which can be debilitating for people who experience it.

"Our research showed a strong relationship between and OCD, particularly in the parts of the brain known to function differently in OCD," says Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, senior author of the study and Head of the Neuroimaging Program in Mood & Anxiety in CAMH's Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. "This finding represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding the biology of OCD, and may lead to the development of new treatments."

Inflammation or swelling is the body's response to infection or injury, and helps the body to heal. But, in some cases, this immune-system response can also be harmful, says Dr. Meyer, who holds a Canada Research Chair in the Neurochemistry of Major Depression. Dampening the of and promoting its curative effects, through new medications or other innovative approaches, could prove to be a new way to treat OCD. In an earlier study, Dr. Meyer discovered that brain inflammation is elevated in people with depression, an illness that can go hand in hand with OCD in some people.

A novel direction for developing treatments is important, since current medications don't work for nearly one in three people with OCD. About one to two per cent of adolescents and adults have OCD, an anxiety disorder in which people have intrusive or worrisome thoughts that recur and can be hard to ignore.

The study included 20 people with OCD and a comparison group of 20 people without the disorder. Doctoral student Sophia Attwells was first author of the study. The researchers used a type of brain imaging called (PET) that was adapted with special technology at CAMH to see inflammation in the brain. A chemical dye measured the activity of immune cells called microglia, which are active in inflammation, in six brain areas that play a role in OCD. In people with OCD, inflammation was 32 per cent higher on average in these regions. Inflammation was greater in some people with OCD as compared to others, which could reflect variability in the biology of the illness.

Additional investigations are under way to find low-cost blood markers and symptom measures that could identify which individuals with OCD have the greatest level of inflammation and could benefit the most from treatment targeting inflammation. Another notable finding from the current study - a connection between resisting compulsions and brain inflammation - provides one indicator. At least nine out of 10 people with OCD carry out compulsions, the actions or rituals that people do to try to reduce their obsessions. In the study, people who experienced the greatest stress or anxiety when they tried to avoid acting out their compulsions also had the highest levels of inflammation in one brain area. This stress response could also help pinpoint who may best benefit from this type of treatment.

The discovery opens different options for developing treatments. "Medications developed to target brain inflammation in other disorders could be useful in treating OCD," says Dr. Meyer. "Work needs to be done to uncover the specific factors that contribute to inflammation, but finding a way to reduce inflammation's harmful effects and increase its helpful effects could enable us to develop a new treatment much more quickly."

Explore further: New biological evidence reveals link between brain inflammation and major depression

More information: JAMA Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.1567

Related Stories

New biological evidence reveals link between brain inflammation and major depression

January 28, 2015
A new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that the measure of brain inflammation in people who were experiencing clinical depression was increased by 30 per cent. The findings, published today ...

Researchers identify how inflammation spreads through the brain after injury

March 8, 2017
Researchers have identified a new mechanism by which inflammation can spread throughout the brain after injury. This mechanism may explain the widespread and long-lasting inflammation that occurs after traumatic brain injury, ...

Study pinpoints key pathway in inflammation and aging

May 9, 2017
In patients with colitis, a serious condition affecting the gut, the immune system turns against the body's own microbes, causing inflammation. To combat this inflammation, scientists have focused in on a chemical signal ...

Brain inflammation linked to depression in multiple sclerosis

July 7, 2016
Patients with multiple sclerosis have higher rates of depression than the general population, including people with other life-long disabling diseases. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis arise from an abnormal response of the ...

Inflammation attacks brain's reward center

February 2, 2016
A new study by Neil Harrison and colleagues published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that a brain reward center, the striatum, may be directly affected by inflammation and that striatal change is related to the emergence ...

Connection between brain inflammation and CTE identified

November 2, 2016
For the first time, researchers have shown that inflammation in the brain may have direct involvement in the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In addition, they found that the number of years one plays ...

Recommended for you

Babies can learn that hard work pays off

September 21, 2017
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different ...

Gene immunotherapy protects against multiple sclerosis in mice

September 21, 2017
A potent and long-lasting gene immunotherapy approach prevents and reverses symptoms of multiple sclerosis in mice, according to a study published September 21st in the journal Molecular Therapy. Multiple sclerosis is an ...

Neuron types in brain are defined by gene activity shaping their communication patterns

September 21, 2017
In a major step forward in research, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today publish in Cell a discovery about the molecular-genetic basis of neuronal cell types. Neurons are the basic building blocks that ...

Highly precise wiring in the cerebral cortex

September 21, 2017
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the cerebral cortex of mammals, where, among other things, vision, thoughts or spatial ...

Your neurons register familiar faces, whether you notice them or not

September 21, 2017
When people see an image of a person they recognize—the famous tennis player Roger Federer or actress Halle Berry, for instance—particular cells light up in the brain. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on ...

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BubbaNicholson
1 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2017
OCD can be cured by taking by mouth 250mg of healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid pheromone. The liquid emits an airborne vapor that causes emotional difficulties among staffers, so wear respirators, use oscillating fans to break up plumes, store collected pheromone (wiped onto ordinary chewing gum sticks) in barrier bags with activated charcoal dunnage. I discovered this pheromone in 1984: Nicholson B. Does kissing aid human bonding by semiochemical addiction? British Journal of Dermatology vol 111:626-9.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.