Jun 082013
 

20130605141302-0

About 1 percent of U.S. adults suffer from OCD, and patients usually receive antianxiety drugs or antidepressants, behavioral therapy, or a combination of therapy and medication

By activating a brain circuit that controls compulsive behavior, MIT neuroscientists have shown that they can block a compulsive behavior in mice — a result that could help researchers develop new treatments for diseases such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette’s syndrome.

About 1 percent of U.S. adults suffer from OCD, and patients usually receive antianxiety drugs or antidepressants, behavioral therapy, or a combination of therapy and medication. For those who do not respond to those treatments, a new alternative is deep brain stimulation, which delivers electrical impulses via a pacemaker implanted in the brain.

For this study, the MIT team used optogenetics to control neuron activity with light. This technique is not yet ready for use in human patients, but studies such as this one could help researchers identify brain activity patterns that signal the onset of compulsive behavior, allowing them to more precisely time the delivery of deep brain stimulation.

“You don’t have to stimulate all the time. You can do it in a very nuanced way,” says Ann Graybiel, an Institute Professor at MIT, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the senior author of a Science paper describing the study.

The paper’s lead author is Eric Burguière, a former postdoc in Graybiel’s lab who is now at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris. Other authors are Patricia Monteiro, a research affiliate at the McGovern Institute, and Guoping Feng, the James W. and Patricia T. Poitras Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a member of the McGovern Institute.

Controlling compulsion

In earlier studies, Graybiel has focused on how to break normal habits; in the current work, she turned to a mouse model developed by Feng to try to block a compulsive behavior. The model mice lack a particular gene, known as Sapap3, that codes for a protein found in the synapses of neurons in the striatum — a part of the brain related to addiction and repetitive behavioral problems, as well as normal functions such as decision-making, planning and response to reward.

For this study, the researchers trained mice whose Sapap3 gene was knocked out to groom compulsively at a specific time, allowing the researchers to try to interrupt the compulsion. To do this, they used a Pavlovian conditioning strategy in which a neutral event (a tone) is paired with a stimulus that provokes the desired behavior — in this case, a drop of water on the mouse’s nose, which triggers the mouse to groom. This strategy was based on therapeutic work with OCD patients, which uses this kind of conditioning.

Read more . . .

via MIT - Anne Trafton
 

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