People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have high levels of brain inflammation, a discovery researchers say could lead to new treatments.
In OCD, people typically have frequent, upsetting thoughts that they try to control by repeating certain rituals or behaviors, such as washing hands or checking door locks.
Canadian researchers compared 20 OCD patients and a control group of 20 people without the condition. In the OCD patients, inflammation was 32 percent higher in six brain regions that play a role in OCD, according to the study.
“Our research showed a strong relationship between brain inflammation and OCD, particularly in the parts of the brain known to function differently in OCD. This finding represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding the biology of OCD, and may lead to the development of new treatments,” senior author Dr. Jeffrey Meyer said.
Meyer is head of the Neurochemical Imaging Program in Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
Inflammation or swelling is the body’s response to infection or injury. While it helps the body heal, it can sometimes be harmful. Altering the balance between helpful and harmful effects might be a key to treating OCD, Meyer said in a center news release.
He said medications developed to target brain inflammation involved in other disorders might help treat OCD.
Finding a new approach to treatment is important, because current medicines fail to help nearly a third of OCD patients. About 1 percent to 2 percent of teens and adults have the anxiety disorder.
“Work needs to be done to uncover the specific factors that contribute to brain 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,” Meyer concluded.
The study was published June 21 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on obsessive-compulsive disorder.