Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most common mental disorders. It is characterized by recurring thoughts, images, impulses, or urges that are so intense that they get in the way of a person’s daily activities. According to an estimate, about 3.3 million people suffer from OCD in the US alone. The cause of OCD is considered to be deeply rooted in the sufferer’s childhood. Some biological and environmental factors are also responsible for causing this disorder.
People suffering from OCD tend to have obsessive thoughts, where they either have an excessive fear of germs or intolerance of irregularity in the patterns. To treat their obsessions, the sufferers behave compulsively; washing their hands excessively, arranging things in order or checking locks continuously.
No particular cause for OCD was found until now when some German researchers discovered that a protein known as SPRED2 is the cause of OCD. The scientists at Julius Maximilian University (JMU) of Würzburg have found out that the absence of SPRED2 causes a signal to the brain and forces it to go into a hyperdrive mode, causing obsessive-compulsive behaviors in mice.
The protein is found to be concentrated in the basal ganglia and amygdala regions of the brain. SPRED2 inhibits a cell signal pathway called Ras/ERK-MAP kinase cascade, and the absence of this protein causes an increased activity of the pathway. Hyperactivity of the pathway causes the obsessive thoughts, which lead to the compulsive behaviors.
An author of the study published in Molecular Psychiatry, Dr. Melanie Ullrich said,
“It is primarily the brain-specific initiator of the signal pathway, the receptor tyrosine kinase TrkB, that is excessively active and causes the overshooting reaction of the downstream components.”
The team engineered mice to be SPRED2 deficient which caused the test specimens to show obsessive behaviors like grooming themselves to the extent of inflicting facial bruises. When the team administered the test mice with inhibitors to control the activity of the signal pathways, the condition of the mice improved.
The lead researcher of the study Kai Schuh said,
“We were able to show in mouse models that the absence of the protein SPRED2 alone can trigger an excessive grooming behavior. 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.”
The hyperactive Ras/ERK-MAP kinase cascade has also been identified as a cancer trigger, so the use of some cancer drugs looks like a potential treatment for the OCD. Even though the drugs are approved by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drugs cannot be applied to OCD treatment before carrying out an extensive research. An anti-depressant has also been found to reduce the symptoms of OCD. Before a drug is applied to the treatment of a condition, it is preferred to assess its potential side effects.
“We are wondering whether such drugs could also be effective in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorders and whether they are beneficial in terms of side effects,” says Ullrich.
A bright future for OCD sufferers ahead!