A Gene For OCD? Science Found A Genetic Marker In Many People With The Condition

Obsessive compulsive disorder is well-known, but its causes are not. Until now: researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered a genetic marker associated with OCD. This could prove to be a game-changer — a better understanding of how psychiatric disorders are linked to genetics could significantly help researchers find better treatment. OCD is a psychiatric condition characterized by intrusive anxiety-inducing thoughts that cause repetitive ritualistic behavior as a way to reduce the anxiety.

Despite wide acknowledgement of the condition — it's so commonly known that it's entered our daily vernacular: "don't be so OCD about the dishes" — OCD is still one of the least understood mental illnesses. But with this latest genetic discovery, that could change. "Like most other medical and psychological conditions, we need to understand what causes conditions, so we can develop real and rational treatments for these conditions and/or prevention," lead study author Dr. Gerald Nestadt told Fox News. "That's why it's important to study or identify genetic causes, if there are any."

Dr. Nestadt's team analyzed the genomes of 1,406 people suffering from OCD, and analyzed more than 1,000 close relatives of people with the disorder — as well as individuals from the general public, for the control group. By comparing the two groups, the researchers were able to identify a genetic marker near a gene called protein tyrosine phosphokinase (PTPRD). More people from the OCD group had the PTPRD gene than the people in the control group.

The PTPRD gene has been associated with learning and memory — two areas affected by OCD — in animals. The gene has also been associated with some cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which shares similarities with OCD. Finding these links is a major step in finding better treatment, as it helps researchers narrow down what to target.

While there are existing treatments for OCD, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications and behavioral psychotherapy, they are only 60 to 70 percent effective and only curb symptoms. "We're not, today, going to change the course of the disorder for someone with OCD, but we absolutely have the hope and expectation that in 10 to 15 years, things will be very different, and certainly for the individual's children," Nestadt told Fox.

Some essential facts about the disorder...

  • 2.2 million people in the U.S. are affected by OCD
  • While there are no known causes, OCD can run in the family
  • The main symptoms are uncontrollable and repeated thoughts and images — anything from germs to acts of violence — and repeating rituals to quell the thoughts and associated anxiety
  • OCD usually develops during childhood or adolescence; most people are diagnosed by age 19
  • The severity of an individual's OCD can vary and symptoms can come and go
  • OCD can be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, and depression
  • OCD affects men and women equally
  • People with OCD often successfully hide their disorders from friends and family

Image: Flickr/Arlington County