Unique Neurological Patterns Found in People with Obsessive Behavior

Obsessive compulsion (OCD) is associated with a deficit of control. Two areas of the brain have been linked to this deficit: the posterior cingulate (PCC) and the anterior cingulate (ACC). These regions effect reactions, actions, decision making, planning, and impulsivity. The executive functions that are involved in these processes occur in these neurological regions and can be measured by assessing functional connectivity.

To get a better understanding of how these regions are affected in people with OCD, Yugi Cheng of the Department of Psychiatry at the First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University in the People’s Republic of China recently led a study that examined MRI’s of the ACC and PCC of people with and without OCD.

For the study, Cheng enlisted 23 participants with OCD and 23 non-OCD control participants. All of the participants were free of medication and were examined during a resting state. The ACC and PCC regions of the brain were analyzed for functional connectivity to determine if deficits existed in the participants with OCD. Cheng discovered that the individuals with OCD had increased activity in the ACC region of their brains and decreased functional connectivity and activity in the PCC regions compared to the non-OCD control participants. Additionally, these increases and decreases in functional connectivity were directly related to the severity of symptoms in the participants with OCD.

The findings demonstrated that six specific neurological networks associated with brain function were affected in the participants with OCD. These networks affect memory, motor and sensory control, self-control, self-orientation, and executive function. In the participants with OCD, the resting state functional connectivity of these regions was significantly different than the functional connectivity found in the control participants. Cheng believes this could explain the loss of control often exhibited by people with OCD.

“However,” added Cheng, “Due to the relatively small sample size and because most patients showed symptoms of both obsessive thoughts and behaviors, we could not identify the specific networks underlying OCD symptoms.” Therefore, future work should focus on the specific symptoms of OCD in order to advance treatments aimed at targeting the mechanisms responsible for those symptoms.

Cheng, Y., Xu, J., Nie, B., Luo, C., Yang, T., et al. (2013). Abnormal resting-state activities and functional connectivities of the anterior and the posterior cortexes in medication-naïve patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67478. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067478

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  • Derrick


    July 31st, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    This sounds promising.If they could pinpoint the networks in the brain responsible for OCD then maybe we could have ways to directly work on those networks.That can dramatically reduce the side effects of treatment in my opinion.The only question in my mind is-How long would it take for something like this to come to reality in treatment?

  • Kyle


    August 1st, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    You never know just how much of the brain can be affected by mental illness until there are in depth studies such as this which are completed and then you see that this is not something that is impacting just one region, but in this case, there are six areas impacted. Think about the patients and how different their lives must be from the rest of us due to these differences and how difficult this must be for them to often overcome.

  • Janet Singer (ocdtalk)

    Janet Singer (ocdtalk)

    August 1st, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    Certainly the more quality research that can be done in the area of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the better. There’s still so much to learn about the causes/effects of OCD.

  • HB


    August 1st, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    Is it always that mental issues such as OCD affect our brain on this level? I somehow feel this only pushes us more towards drugs than towards other avenues. After all, you cannot bring about a change in brain cell network with alternative methods, can you?!

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