There was some big news for OCDers this past weekend: Scientists discovered a specific brain receptor that could be triggered to cause OCD-like symptoms in mice, including anxiety and overgrooming.

And much more exciting, scientists also figured out how to “unstick” the OCD response in that receptor — causing symptoms to disappear almost immediately.

According to an article on Fox News about the study:

Several years ago, researchers noticed that mice who were engineered to lack a gene called Sapap3 started grooming compulsively. These researchers looked more closely and found that one of the problems with these mice was that a brain receptor called mGluR5 was overactive.

Researchers weren’t sure if that receptor was relevant, or if it was just a coincidence, so they used an experimental drug to block it. The mice’s OCD symptoms disappeared, and they disappeared immediately.

The study also added some credence to the theory that OCD is caused when our brains get stuck in an anxiety response:

“Normally this receptor gets turned on when the neurotransmitter is released from a connected cell,” senior author Dr. Nicole Calakos explained. “In these mouse brains, the receptor is on all the time whether or not the transmitter is coming from the other cell.”

So what does that mean for us? Not much, at the moment. There will need to be a lot more research, both into mice with OCD-like symptoms to determine if that receptor is always responsible, and into humans with OCD to see if the cause for us is the same. There will also, of course, need to be FDA trials of the experimental drug researchers used to block the mGluR5 brain receptor, to make sure that it’s safe, find out any side effects, and make sure there are no long-term problems associated with its use.

But it does mean that, a few years from now, we might be able to “turn off” our OCD without experimenting with various antidepressants and exposure therapy and other treatments that take time and work to kick in. And it sounds like it’s much less dangerous than some of the current last ditch treatmentsbeing investigated for OCD, such as deep brain stimulation.

Photo by CJ Isherwood