Certain recent developments in the field of mental health are being closely examined as possible breakthroughs in OCD treatment. Read on to find out more about these cutting-edge advancements.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) is a mental health disorder mainly composed of obsessive thought content and compulsive reactions to them. The more common OCD obsessions are cleanliness and contamination, taboo thoughts and images, catastrophizing (concern over a tragic event befalling the individual or a loved one), and counting and organization. OCD compulsions are much more diverse, holding virtually endless options: it includes variations on checking and rechecking if the lights have been turned off, repeatedly washing one’s hands, tapping the top of the table a set number of times, and more.
Both OCD-related obsessions and OCD-related compulsions enhance one another, causing the severity of the condition to increase. This results in a great deal of stress for the individual experiencing it, who begins to contend with unpleasant, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts throughout the day, in addition to ritualistic and often illogical reactions they feel compelled to carry out. This condition often has detrimental effects on one’s well-being, compromising their social functioning, professional work, academic achievements, and other major aspects of their lives.
2.3% of US adults, as well as 1%-2.3% of US children and adolescents, are diagnosed with OCD. While this condition can develop at any age, symptoms commonly first appear between ten years old and early adulthood. Due to the elusiveness of its symptoms, patients are usually only diagnosed (and only begin to receive treatment) from the ages of 14-17, after previously having their symptoms chalked up to mere eccentricity.
Roughly one third of patients with OCD do not respond to first-line treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medication (SSRIs). The relatively low remission rate has pushed scientists to explore potential alternatives to the more common routes of OCD treatment.
Recent research has shown that patients with OCD have six times the amount of a protein called Immuno-moodulin, or Imood, compared to individuals who do not contend with OCD. In addition to OCD, Imood was also found to increase symptoms of anxiety and stress, both mental health areas that have already been linked to OCD.
The innovation behind Imood blocking is centered on its potential ability to influence neural activity through a genetic pathway: specifically, it is believed it may be able to influence genes associated with the appearance of OCD symptoms. Indeed, when an antibody to Imood was introduced within a laboratory setting, anxiety levels decreased, leading researchers to pursue similar studies based on the closely related OCD.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been making great strides in the field of depression treatment, and is also showing promising results when it comes to OCD. By relying on algorithmic calculations, AI technology is now allowing researchers to reach empirical conclusions faster and more accurately, thereby increasing the efficacy of manufactured medications.
OCD-focused AI studies have set their sights on discovering which particular protein (or proteins) are involved in the appearance of the condition’s adverse symptoms, and which molecular medication can regulate it. So far, a cell surface protein called 5-HTIA has been implicated: normally, 5-HTIA is activated by the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has already been found to be related to the appearance of this condition. By calculating which molecular drug this protein will respond to, AI research is attempting to effectively decrease OCD severity, even in cases where serotonin activation is below the normal rate.
While serotonin is still considered the central neurotransmitter involved in the occurrence of OCD, other chemical compounds are being investigated for their role in this condition, particularly the neurotransmitter glutamate. With such a high resistance rate to serotonin-focused SSRI medications, many researchers believe that serotonin alone cannot be called upon to successfully alleviate OCD symptoms. This is why they have turned to additional neurotransmitters, in an effort to better understand the neural pathways involved in this condition. Enter glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. Current research suggests that glutamate regulation plays a crucial part in facilitating higher levels of serotonin, thereby enabling a decrease of OCD symptoms.
A newly developed drug called truriluze is believed to be able to regulate glutamate, acting as a modulating agent for the neurotransmitter. Through glutamate’s eventual effect on serotonin, this indirect route to OCD relief is considered a promising step toward more widespread symptom alleviation.
The emerging field of optogenetics allows scientists to project light as a way to locate and control the activation of genetically modified neurons. This, in turn, is presently being incorporated into studies on an OCD-related phenomenon—the startle reflex.
The startle reflex is a sudden and unpleasant cognitive overload that occurs due to an alarming and unexpected stimulus. Jumping in one’s seat while watching a scary movie, when they spot the killer about to attack someone, is an example of the startle reflex. Like patients battling anxiety, those contending with OCD were also found to have an overly alert startle reflex.
Optogenetics is providing researchers with the opportunity to examine sensorimotor gating: optogenetic technology is currently able to identify which neural circuits are involved with startle inhibition, which prevent the brain from creating the cognitive overload associated with OCD and anxiety. Scientists focused on sensorimotor gating are hoping to progress their research to eventually reach the ability to not only locate the relevant circuits that prevent OCD symptoms, but also to regulate their activity, thereby inducing such oversight.