Researchers have finally uncovered a genetic marker linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Could this discovery help scientists gain a deeper understanding of the disorder, and could it even lead to a more effective treatment in the future?
How Much Do We Really Know About OCD?
Almost everyone has heard of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It's a condition marked by repetitive, obsessive behaviors and thoughts. Patients may try to reduce their participation in the compulsions from which they suffer, but without much success. The obsessions and compulsions patients suffer from take up a lot of their time every day, and have a significant negative impact on the quality of their life. They may feel something terrible will happen if they do not engage in these behaviors, and may physically be unable to stop themselves from doing so. Hoarding and hair-pulling are two examples of disorders that are closely linked to OCD.
Scientists have long believed that a combination of environmental and genetic factors is responsible for the disorder, but we are not quite sure at this point. Unfortunately, it's quite impossible to help OCD patients more effectively unless the underlying cause of the disorder becomes clear.
The lead author of the new study, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Dr Gerald Nestadt, said: "Like most other medical and psychological conditions, we need to understand what causes conditions, so we can develop real and rational treatments for these conditions and/or prevention." And that is exactly what his team set out to do.
Genetic Marker For OCD Found On Chromosome 9
The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, analyzed the genomes of a total of 5,061. Among those were the genomes of 1,406 people diagnosed with OCD, 1,000 of their immediate relatives, and a bunch of people from the general, non-obsessive compulsive public.
It was a huge undertaking that offered important results. A genetic marker was found on chromosome 9, near a gene called protein tyrosine phosphokinase (PTPRD). Previous animal studies had already revealed that PTPRD is linked to both memory and learning, areas that certainly come into play in people who suffer from OCD. The same gene is, interestingly, also associated with ADHD in humans.
What does a "genetic marker" really mean, though? This marker was found to be present in OCD patients more often than in the control group. The marker probably isn't the gene that causes OCD directly, but it is something closely related to the cause of the disorder. Its discovery means scientists are now much closer to locating the exact genetic cause of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, if there is one.
Dr Nestadt pointed out: "The idea is that if we know what chemical or protein is affected in the condition, then we can work out what problem is in the brain that causes the condition and the next step is to find a pharmaceutical that changes that or affects that so as to improve the condition."
He added that his discovery would not change the course of OCD in current patients. Further research is desperately needed, but this study was certainly one that could turn out to make all the difference later on. "we absolutely have the hope and expectation that in 10 to 15 years, things will be very different, and certainly for the individual’s children," Nestadt said.