*research suggests obsessive-compulsive disorder may not stem from anxiety as has long been thought, but that anxiety may be the result of coping with the burden of the symptoms. This is a radical change of thinking, as you'll discover if you Google for a definition of OCD.
*immune system glitches could set people up for coming down with OCD by disrupting a particular brain circuit involved in decision-making. Strep throat appears to be one culprit. Studies suggest that either overly strong or weak immune system response can increase risk.
*a study by James Leckman et al at the Yale University Child Study Center found that particular variations in a particular protein-producing gene are more common in people with OCD, particularly Caucasians and those with childhood onset.
*neurobiologist Guoping Feng, a boldly persistent researcher now at MIT, and his team found that stopping a specific structural protein in mice led them to compulsive grooming, at twice the normal rate. When the mice were returned to normal physically through a bone marrow transplant, they stopped all that extra washing.
*with OCD, "a range of brain abnormalities" show up in the orbito-frontal cortex, the center of decision-making. A 2009 statistical analysis of 21 studies, led by a French psychiatrist found that this brain region and one other tend to be smaller in OC patients.
I'm fascinated by the idea that the anxiety is a side effect. I've never felt that I was particularly anxious in normal ways, so I figured that the fears were suppressed and came out in obsessive thoughts, etc. I can certainly buy the idea that OCD symptoms put a person a bit on edge.
And I do identify with a lot of it: I'm Caucasian, developed this ailment as a child, and have a heroically fierce immune system. Also, there's now a trend to categorizing OCD, not with anxiety disorders, but in finding overlap with ailments like body dysmorphia (preoccupation with an imagined physical flaw.) and Tourette's. I have a few tiny Tourettes-like habits–repeating words and such–that emerge only in privacy or with my husband I do have plenty of experience with body dysmorphia, having weathered a multi-year eating disorder; I still usually feel a bit overweight, though I'm told I'm not.
How does all this new research help us with the problem? One possibility is a new type of medication, based on calming the identified protein. Another is more custom-tailored therapy, based on identifying the biological basis of particular symptoms. Work is underway now to identify the brain networks that associated with different responses to treatment. And, the findings open the possibility for deep brain stimulation for people with a severe case.
I come away with two strong feelings: gratitude that I have such a mild case…and hopefulness on learning how much productive study is going on.