Communication between some of the brain’s most important centers is altered in children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), according to new research by scientists at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.
The study, conducted by David Rosenberg, M.D., and Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D., at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, highlights how brain networks contribute to OCD in children. They evaluated young people with a diagnosis of OCD as well as a healthy control group.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by recurring anxiety-provoking thoughts (obsessions) that are alleviated only by ritualistic actions (compulsions). Severe cases can lead to overwhelming impairment and dysfunction.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a neuroimaging procedure that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, the researchers analyzed brain responses while participants engaged in a basic working memory task.
The tasks varied in difficulty in an attempt to trigger activity in a brain network responsible for complex processes, such as cognitive control. Then, using sophisticated network analyses, the researchers looked at the differences in brain network function between the two groups.
“Most fundamentally, we show that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a key region of the brain associated with cognitive control, exerts exaggerated brain network effects in OCD,” said Diwadkar, an associate professor.
“This result provides a putative scientific framework for what clinicians have noted about OCD-related behaviors. These network-based effects have been suggested, but not explicitly demonstrated before in brain imaging data in the disorder.
“Our studies are perfectly aligned with the renewed emphasis of the National Institute of Mental Health to discover mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disease in the brain. If you can discover a reliable mechanism underlying disease, you have the promise of improved pathways toward treatment,” he said.
The findings are highly consistent with observations in the clinic, added Rosenberg, who is a professor and the department’s chair.
“Children with OCD are beset by preoccupations and can’t easily move on from certain tasks and behaviors. As all complex behavior arises from brain networks, being trapped in this mode must arise from impaired brain network interactions in OCD,” said Rosenberg.
“In our previous studies we had focused on assessing the structure and the neurochemistry of the anterior cingulate. We had long suspected that brain network interactions originating in this region are impaired in the disorder. But this is the first study to clearly demonstrate this.”
The study is published in a special edition of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Source: Wayne State University