Mouse model of OCD could guide new treatment approaches

A new mouse model may help researchers better understand the mechanisms behind compulsive behaviors and provide guidance for better treatment methods for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

OCD, which is marked by repetitive behaviors and thoughts driven by anxiety, affects about 2% to 3% of the global population and is a cause of illness-related disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute used new technology called optogenetics to stimulate specific circuits linking the brain's cortex and striatum. Stimulation of this area of the brain caused progressive repetitive behavior in the mice, suggesting that targeting this region might prevent abnormal circuit changes before they become pathological behaviors in people at risk for OCD. The study was published in the June 7 issue of Science.

"That activation of cortico-striatal circuits did not lead directly to repetitive behaviors in the mice. But if we repeatedly stimulated for multiple days in a row for only 5 minutes a day, we saw a progressive development of repetitive behaviors--in this case, repetitive grooming behavior--that persisted up to two weeks after the stimulation was stopped," Dr. Susanne Ahmari, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said in a statement.

Mice whose cortex and striatum were stimulated were then treated with the common OCD medication fluoxetine and their behavior went back to normal, suggesting that new direct stimulation techniques, including deep brain stimulation, could also be effective at combating obsessive behavior.

- here's the study abstract (reg. req.)
- read the press release