OCD May Involve A Glitch In Reward Circuitry

Notice: Undefined offset: 3 in _menu_translate() (line 578 of /var/www/brainphysics/includes/menu.inc).

Can virtual reality help scientists unravel the brain mechanisms behind OCD?

People at Columbia University recently used a virtual reality maze and magnetic resonance brain imaging to research brain differences in individuals with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Specifically, the Columbia researchers wondered how the brains of those with OCD may differ from non-OCD brains while doing a reward-based learning activity—such as navigating a virtual maze.

Virtual Rewards

Our brain’s amygdala and hippocampus join forces with the frontal cortex to provide a neurological reward system. This system is how the brain anticipates, reacts to, and learns from tasks that reward us. The amygdala and hippocampus are also involved with the experience of anxiety, and possibly OCD behaviors.

Some of the Columbia study participants were diagnosed with OCD, but did not take medication for the symptoms. The remaining participants did not have OCD. Both sets of participants completed the challenge phase, and the control phase of the study.

In the challenge phase, each person used landscape cues (e.g., flowers, trees) to remember where they had traveled on a virtual maze and to find rewards. During the control phase, landscape cues were scrambled so they could not be used to locate rewards. Brain imaging revealed what areas of the participant’s gray matter were activated during each phase.

Brain Differences

The study participants with OCD, when compared to non-OCD participants, showed more activation of their hippocampus when using cues to remember the maze layout. During the exercise, those with OCD did not engage their ventral striatum - part of our brain’s reward system - but the non-OCD participants did.

The reward mechanism was clearly working differently in the study participants with OCD, and the difference may contribute to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. By mapping OCD brain anomalies, scientists hope to find more effective treatments for the disorder.

Source: BBR Foundation
Photo credit: aboutmodafinil.com / flickr creative commons

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 brainphysics.com 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 brainphysics.com 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.

Susbscribe to our free newsletter for information & inspiration


BrainPhysics.com Social