Behavioural Therapy Increases Connectivity in Brains of People With OCD

September 20, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- September 20, 2017 -- People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), when treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), demonstrate distinct changes in their brains as well as improvement in their symptoms, according to a study published in Translational Psychiatry.

In the study, patients with OCD underwent daily CBT to learn how to better resist compulsive behaviours and to decrease distress. Within 1 month, they had developed extensive increases in the strength of the connections between regions of their brains, which may reflect the participants gained new non-compulsive behaviours and thought patterns.

The results bolster the argument for making CBT more widely available for treating the disorder, which affects more than 1 in 50 people in the United States.

The study also could help guide future treatments that are faster or more effective, which would lower healthcare costs.

“The changes appeared to compensate for, rather than correct, underlying brain dysfunction,” said Jamie Feusner, MD, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California. “The findings open the door for future research, new treatment targets and new approaches.”

The researchers evaluated 43 patients with OCD who received intensive CBT therapy (either immediately or after a 4-week wait) and 24 people without OCD who were used as a comparison group.

All of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after 4 weeks of treatment, as did the control group.

When the researchers compared the “before” and “after” brain scans of the participants who received CBT, they saw an increase in connectivity, which can signify greater communication, between the cerebellum and the striatum, and between the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex.

The scans of people without OCD did not show any changes; and among the people with OCD who waited 4 weeks for their treatment, there were also no changes during the waiting period, demonstrating that the changes in the brain do not occur spontaneously with the passage of time.

“The results could give hope and encouragement to OCD patients, showing them that CBT results in measurable changes in the brain that correlate with reduced symptoms,” said Teena Moody, University of California at Los Angeles.

Reference: DOI: 10.1038/tp.2017.192

SOURCE: University of California at Los Angeles, Health Sciences

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