A Possible Link Between OCD And Brain Inflammation

distressed-IcareGirard-flickr.jpg

While obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) research, especially small pilot studies, can generate more questions than answers, they often point to what may be important pieces of the OCD puzzle.

For instance, a small study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that inflammation may be involved in the onset, or persistence of OCD. The researchers discovered that study participants with OCD had significantly elevated brain inflammation (by 30 percent) compared to participants without OCD.

“Our research showed a strong relationship between brain inflammation and OCD, particularly in the parts of the brain known to function differently in OCD…,” said Dr. Jefferey Meyer, of the 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.”

The study also revealed that participants experiencing the most stress or anxiety while resisting their compulsive behaviors had the greatest inflammation levels in a specific brain region.

Though these research findings suggest a possible target for new OCD treatments, the results will need to be replicated in larger trials. The current study involved only 40 people, 20 with OCD, and 20 in the control group, without OCD. Plus, researchers do not yet know whether inflammation is a causative OCD factor, or whether all OCD sufferers have brain inflammation, or have it in the same areas.

If inflammation proves to be a causal factor in OCD it would not be too surprising since several studies show brain inflammation may have a causal relationship with other mental health conditions. In one trial, also published in JAMA Psychiatry, it was shown that brain inflammation was 30 percent higher in patients with clinical depression.

However, inflammation may turn out to be a factor for depression, or OCD onset, and not the primary cause. Ideally, researchers will identify biomarkers that directly link these mental health conditions to inflammation so treatments that alleviate the swelling can be tested for effectiveness.

Sources: Janet Singer/Psych Central; Cleveland Clinic
Photo credit: Icare Girard

 
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