Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations and engage in behaviours or mental acts in response to these thoughts or obsessions.
Often the person carries out the behaviours to reduce the impact or get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only brings temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.
While the cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder has previously been unknown, a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry has finally shed light on a potential cause.
By studying mice, a team of researchers in Germany have found that rodents with a deficiency of the "SPRED2 protein" engaged in excessive grooming rituals.
This protein generally inhibits signals from sliding along a pathway in the brain called the Ras/ERK-MAP kinase cascade. Without SPRED2, signal pathways become overactive - #SCIENCE.
But what does this mean, I hear you ask?
The SPRED2 protein is usually very prevalent in areas like the basal ganglia and amygdala (sections of the brain), which are responsible for human functions like decision-making, emotional reactions, motor control, and habitual behaviours.
Without the inhibitor, the initiator of these pathways runs on overdrive. A person with OCD may not be able to stop specific thoughts and behaviours, because signals are flying unchecked down the affected pathway in key regions of the brain.
OCD is currently treated with various antidepressants, which the researchers did use to effectively treat the condition in their experiment.
However, the scientific community has been searching for that underlying mechanism of OCD, so doctors can use more targeted, and perhaps better, treatment methods.