OCD Link Genetic Marker New Treatments

It is estimated that OCD affects 1 to 2 percent of the U.S. population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), OCD is one of the more disabling mental health conditions worldwide. Now, a group of researchers has identified a genetic marker that may be associated with the development of OCD.

OCD is one of the least understood mental disorders in terms of causes and mechanisms. Treatment for the disorder includes antidepressants, known as SSRIs, and behavioral therapy. However, these treatments are only effective for some people.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety (obsessions), repetitive behaviors engaged in to reduce anxiety (compulsions), or a combination of both. OCD can have a tremendous negative impact on daily functioning.

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Protein Tyrosine Phosphokinase Associated with OCD

The study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The researchers conducted a genome-wide association study, which involved scanning the genomes of more than 1,400 people with OCD and more than 1,000 close relatives of people with OCD. A significant association was identified in OCD patients near a gene called protein tyrosine phosphokinase (PTPRD).

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New Medications to Treat OCD Could Be Next

Lead study author, Gerald Nestadt, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and director of the Johns Hopkins Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program, told Healthline, "Genetic studies of OCD are bearing fruit. They are catching up to the studies of other conditions.” 

“If this finding is confirmed, it could be useful, Nestadt said in a press statement. "We might ultimately be able to identify new drugs that could help people with this often disabling disorder, one for which current medications work only 60 to 70 percent of the time.”

According to Nestadt, the gene has already been shown in animals to be possibly involved in learning and memory, traits influenced by OCD in humans.

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Some Cases of ADHD Associated with the Gene

Pointing out that some cases of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been associated with the gene, Nestadt said that OCD and ADHD have some symptoms in common. The gene also works with another gene family, SLITRK, which has also been associated with OCD in animals, he explained.

Noting that OCD research has lagged behind other psychiatric disorders in terms of genetics, Nestadt said the researchers are hopeful their finding will help them greater understand OCD and aid in the discovery of new ways to treat it.

Nestadt told Healthline, “Our next step is to combine (our research) with other studies and get larger samples. We plan to use other techniques such as genome sequencing.”

When queried as to when development of a new drug to treat OCD may become reality, Nestadt said it’s difficult to predict. “It may still take years. We hope that we will get to rational treatments in the future,” he said.