Scientists identify two genes involved in the cerebral effects of boys and girls with obsessive-compulsive symptoms

  • A team from IDIBELL, the Bellvitge University Hospital and CIBERSAM, in collaboration with ISGlobal and Harvard Medical School, have described alterations in two genes that would explain the abnormally reverberant behavior of the brain circuits involved in OCD.
  • Knowing the biological causes behind the appearance of the first obsessive-compulsive symptoms can help the development of new treatments directed to new therapeutic targets.
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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by the appearance of intrusive thoughts or impulses that end up leading to repetitive behaviors. Between 1 and 3% of the population suffer from this disorder, most of who end up being chronic patients. However, the impact of this disease can be greatly minimized by prevention and early detection.

A research team from the IDIBELL Neuroscience program and the Bellvitge University Hospital led by Dr. Carles Soriano-Mas, also a member of the Mental Health CIBER (CIBERSAM), has identified two genes that are associated with the abnormally reverberant behavior of the brain circuits involved in OCD. The repeated activation of such circuits prevents the patient from naturally moving from one task to the next, which ends up translating into the characteristic repetitive behavior.

“These results represent a step forward in the finding of possible therapeutic targets and the development of new pharmacological treatments,” explains Dr. Soriano-Mas. Likewise, the identified genes are related to the so-called glutamatergic neurotransmission, therefore, as the doctor explains, one of the possible therapeutic strategies would be to address this type of neuronal connection.

The appearance of obsessive-compulsive symptoms during childhood is considered a risk factor for developing OCD in adulthood. It is believed that the appearance of such early symptoms is an indicative of a possible alteration in the brain circuits involved in OCD. “Hence the importance of early detection -indicates Dr. Maria Suñol, first author of the work-, if we detect the first symptoms and their causes in time we could be able to stop it before the chronification of possible brain alterations.”

Combining brain MRIs with genetic analysis

For this project, more than 220 boys and girls not diagnosed with OCD but who showed different degrees of this disorder’s symptoms were studied, in order to avoid the effects of medication or other comorbidities on the results.

These boys and girls underwent a brain MRI to assess their functionality and the effects on the OCD-involved neural circuits. At the same time, a blood test was performed to analyze their genes and, through subsequent bioinformatic tests, those that could be modulating the reverberant activation of neural circuits were determined.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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