Link Between Bone Marrow and Compulsive Behavior


A recent University of Utah study headed by Mario Capecchi, a geneticist who has won the Nobel Peace Prize for previous work, may give hope to those who suffer from compulsive disorders. The study provides evidence that certain cells in the immune system play a role in the development of psychiatric disorders, particularly OCD. These immune cells, known as microglia, protect the spinal cord and brain against infection.

The scientists found that mice that compulsively pull their fur out were cured when they received a bone marrow transplant. In humans, compulsive hair pulling is the primary symptom of a compulsive disorder known as trichotillomania. Considering that 99 percent of human genes are the same as those in mice, Capecchi’s discovery should be pertinent to individuals with similar compulsions.

Capecchi’s research found that the microglia in these mice were defective, and caused the mice to pull out their fur and groom themselves compulsively. A mutant gene caused the cells to become defective. Several months after the mice received a bone marrow transplant from normal mice, their compulsive behavior either ceased or decreased significantly.

This study could open the door to new possibilities in psychiatric treatment. However, Capecchi warns that bone marrow transplants should not be done on people in an attempt to cure psychiatric disorders. While his research shows that behavior can be adversely impacted by bone marrow, further research is still necessary.

The journal Cell published the study in their May 28th issue.

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