People with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be helped with deep brain stimulation (DBS).
A new Dutch study appearing in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that DBS restored normal functioning in the nucleus accumbens, a “network” in the brain associated with OCD.
“This network is involved in motivation and the processing of reward, and its activity is disturbed in [obsessive-compulsive disorder], probably explaining why [patients] are stuck in pathological behaviors at the cost of healthy ones,” said study author Dr. Martijn Figee, a psychiatrist with the DBS psychiatry department at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam.
OCD sufferers experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts
About one percent of U.S. adults suffer from the condition. OCD involves unwanted, intrusive thoughts or obsessions which cause compulsive, repetitive behaviors.
When a person without OCD wonders if he left the iron on, that thought is quickly answered with the certain knowledge that it was turned off. For a person with OCD, the idea that the iron may be on will not go away; it repeats in the person’s mind. Finally, the person must check the iron and may do so repeatedly just to be sure that it is, in fact, off.
The success of deep brain stimulation
Deep brain stimulation is widely known as a treatment for severe Parkinson’s. It has also been used to treat major depression and, experimentally, as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
In the Dutch study, 16 patients with OCD and 13 control subjects had electrodes implanted in the nucleus accumbens. They underwent functional MRI brain scans to show brain activity while performing various tasks that might trigger an OCD episode. Symptoms improved an average of 50 percent while brain activity was normalized.
“This may explain why patient with DBS experience very fast changes in a wide array of motivational and behavioral problems,” Figee explained. “This is clinically important because it indicates that DBS could also help for other disorders that have similar network disturbances, like addition or eating disorders.”