Ann Arbor, Mich. -- Obsessive-compulsive disorder tends to run in families, causing members of several generations to experience severe anxiety and disturbing thoughts that they ease by repeating certain behaviors. In fact, close relatives of people with OCD are up to nine times more likely to develop OCD themselves.
Now, new research is shedding new light on one of the genetic factors that may contribute to that pattern. And while no one gene "causes" OCD, the research is helping scientists confirm the importance of a particular gene that has been suspected to play a major role in OCD's development.
In two papers published simultaneously in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto report finding an association between OCD patients and a glutamate transporter gene called SLC1A1.
The gene encodes a protein called EAAC1 that regulates the flow of a substance called glutamate in and out of brain cells. So, variations in the gene might lead to alterations in that flow, perhaps putting a person at increased risk of developing OCD.
The new findings are especially important not only because of the simultaneous discoveries reported in the papers, but also because of previous studies that show a functional link between glutamate and OCD. Brain imaging and spinal fluid studies have shown differences in the glutamate system between OCD patients and healthy volunteers, including in areas of the brain where the EAAC1 protein is most common.
"Taken together, these findings suggest that SLC1A1 is a strong candidate gene for OCD, which if confirmed could lead to improvements in understanding and treating this condition, and screening those with an elevated risk," says Gregory Hanna, M.D., senior author on one of the papers and an associate professor of psychiatry at the U-M Medical School. "It
Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System