Light therapy for OCD

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By applying light stimulation to very specific neurons in the brain, scientists have re-established normal behavior in mice that had developed a condition similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Repetitive behavior characterizes a number of neuro-psychiatric disorders like OCD. These behaviors will develop to the point of becoming a hindrance to normal life. The usual treatment is pharmacological with some behavioral talk therapy.

However, for about one-third of patients, severe symptoms persist. Therefore, a better understanding of cerebral mechanisms that cause these repetitive behavior patterns to provide better treatment.

Identifying area of the brain which controls habitual behavior

Previous neuroimaging found dysfunctioning in neuron circuits located in specific areas of the brain in people with OCD. The new research focused on this neuron circuit to examine its function and to develop an approach to treating OCD in the mouse model.

Mice in the lab were mutated by failing to express a protein involved in the function of learning sequences, developing habits or decision-making. Researchers were able to watch the emergence of the repetitive behavior beyond its usefulness and into self-harm. The mice were unable to stop grooming even to the point of causing lesions. The researchers found that the dysfunction of communication in the brain between the neocortex and the striatum led to the hyperactivity.

Reducing compulsive behavior with light

Optogenetics consists of modifying identified neurons to make them express light-sensitive proteins called opsins. Since these neurons are sensitive to light, it is possible to control their activity with a light beam. When the researchers applied light stimulation to excite the neurons in the cortex that send messages to the striatum, the compulsive behaviors diminished. Without it, the behavior returned.

“Our discoveries show that selective stimulation of the circuit can re-establish normal behavior in mice that originally presented pathological repetitive behavior similar to the type of behavior observed in certain patients suffering from obsessive compulsive disorders,” said Eric Burguiere of MIT.

This discovery will aid in new treatments and understanding of the condition.

Source: ScienceDaily, INSERM

 
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