Another Piece of the OCD Puzzle: Charting Brain Chatter


Those of you who are interested in what goes on in the brain related to OCD symptoms may be curious about the findings of a couple of neuropsychiatrists in Amsterdam. They found a way to monitor neural activity in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who are being treated by way of electrical brain implants, or deep brain stimulation.

The activity of implanted brain electrodes has a calming effect on the symptoms of some people with severe OCD. Brain stimulation is also being used to reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and depression as well but is still considered an experimental treatment since why it helps, and why it does not help everyone, is little understood.

However, the Dutch researchers Damiaan Denys and Martijn Figee are working to help solve this puzzle. Their monitoring suggests that when a person is engaged in compulsive behavior, there is an excessive amount of neural chatter between the brain’s nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. Deep brain stimulation somehow disrupts the over-communication between these two areas.

Accumbens and Prefrontal Cortex Chatter

Each side of the human brain contains a nucleus accumbens. The accumbens is a bunch of neurons that contribute to our experience of pleasure, reward, fear, aggression, and addiction. The neurotransmitters GABA and dopamine are significant players in this region of our brain.

Our prefrontal cortex is active when we decide whether to do something. It plays a role in planning, goal setting, and higher levels of cognition or thinking.

If the accumbens and prefrontal cortex are relaying too much information to each other, it's easy to imagine how this can create a problem. Maybe they are both firing away and neither one is “listening,” rather like two people having a heated discussion or argument; and sometimes OCD does feel like an argument going on in the head.


The researchers Figee and Denys believe their study, done using MRI technology, strengthens the idea that deep brain stimulation works by re-synchronizing, or re-synching, our brain circuitry. It somehow normalizes troublesome oscillations between brain regions.

Findings such as this may also enable doctors to some day diagnose mental health problems by reading the signature of our brain activity.

Source: MIT Technology Review

ocd self test
Do you or a loved one feel like you might have a problem with OCD? Take the Self Test now to get more information.

The information provided on is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Click here to read our complete Terms of Use.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive mental health Information & Inspiration

Email Social