Scientists May Be One Step Closer to Understanding What Causes OCD

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Scientists May Be One Step Closer to Understanding What Causes OCD

A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry may help get researchers closer to discovering the cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, is a neuropsychiatric disease characterized by intrusive thoughts that lead to obsessions and compulsions that affects roughly two percent of the population.

The conducted study, which analyzed mice models, found that rodents with a deficiency of the SPRED2 protein engaged in OCD-like behavior.


The SPRED2 is a protein inhibitor that is typically found in areas of the brain called the ganglia and amygdala, which are responsible for decision-making, emotional reactions, voluntary motor control and habitual behaviors.

SPRED2 inhibits signals from sliding along a pathway called the Ras/ERK-MAP kinase cascade. When SPRED2 is not present, signal pathways become overactive. Overactive pathways result in subsequent overactive brain functions—which we witness as obsession and compulsion.

The majority of people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:

- Washers: afraid of contamination
- Checkers: repeatedly check things (make sure the oven is turned off, door is locked, etc.)
- Doubters and sinners: afraid that if everything isn’t perfect, something bad will happen
- Counters and arrangers: obsessed with order and symmetry
- Hoarders: afraid something bad will happen if they throw things away

As the study was conducted with mice, there is no way to determine whether or not these findings could be repeatable in human subjects. While the research is in no way an end all explanation as to what causes OCD, it seems to be a step in the right direction.

Additional studies will soon be underway. Researcher Kai Schuh who is a professor at the Institute for Physiology at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität in Germany says, “our study delivers a valuable new model that allows the disease mechanisms to be investigated and new therapy options for obsessive-compulsive disorders to be tested.”

Photo: Vivian Chen, CC-BY

Elizabeth Chambers is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia.