The cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has long been a mystery, but a team of researchers from Duke University have recently discovered some evidence that could help us better understand what causes the disorder. Published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the research pinpoints the chemical receptor in the brain that acts as a sort of “on switch” for OCD in mice.
The scientists looked at mice that were bred to lack a gene called Sapap3, which caused them to excessively groom themselves. When studying these anxious mice, the researchers found that the chemical receptor called mGluR5 was constantly activated in their brains. When researchers gave the mice a chemical that deactivates mGluR5 receptors, they immediately stopped exhibiting their OCD-like symptoms.
To confirm that the mGluR5 was responsible for their obsessive-compulsive behaviors, the scientists gave regular laboratory mice a drug that increased activity of mGluR5 receptors. Sure enough, these mice began to groom themselves excessively and exhibit anxious behaviors.
Researchers need to dig deeper to figure out which types of compulsive behavior are affected by this receptor. Luckily, new non-invasive imaging technologies now make it possible to measure mGluR5 activity in humans, according to a Duke University press release, which means this new research could help pave the way to new treatments for people suffering from OCD.