Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Mice provide new clues about obsessive-compulsive disorder

In Brief

Mice provide new clues about obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects about one in 50 people, and although symptoms vary, it is characterized by recurrent or persistent thoughts, impulses, or images, as well as repetitive actions such as washing hands compulsively. The condition is often disabling.

Duke University researchers did not set out to study OCD. Instead, they wanted to study a protein encoded by a gene known as SAPAP3. They applied a classic research technique: knocking out the gene to determine what happens when the protein is not produced.

To their surprise, the researchers found that although the knock-out mice seemed normal at first, by the age of four to six months old they had begun to groom and scratch themselves compulsively. The mice not only created bald patches and rubbed their skin raw, but also displayed the type of anxiety sometimes seen in people with OCD. When the scientists gave the mice a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, a medication used to treat OCD, the obsessive grooming behavior decreased.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »