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Finding the causes of OCD

Research awardFellows Award programme

Funding period2013 - 2016

InstitutionUniversity of Pittsburgh

LocationUnited States of America

Dr Susanne Ahmari is investigating brain circuits involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

The project

Around 3% of people live with OCD, compulsively repeating activities to try and deal with the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts and fears.

The effect can be debilitating, but half of people find that current treatments make little difference. So Susanne Ahmari is searching for answers that could help create more effective support.

Her focus is on exploring what happens in the brain to cause OCD. Specifically, she’s investigating whether problems in the brain’s circuits – the multiple networks that information in the brain travels along – could cause the symptoms of OCD.  

The process

This project involves a new technique called optogenetics.

This enables researchers to isolate and study specific brain cells, by making cells sensitive to light then using targeted lights to switch those cells on and off. It’s a technique that’s really useful to watch how brain cells interact.

In previous research, Susanne found that repeated abnormal signals in one brain circuit in mice caused compulsive, repetitive behaviour. She’s now taking this further – and testing how it could be possible to stop this behaviour by targeting part of this brain circuit.

The potential

The use of cutting-edge optogenetics sets this project apart. Until recently, it’s not been possible to study individual brain circuits in this way to see if they could cause OCD.

Armed with this new technology, Susanne is aiming to push understanding of OCD forwards – and to contribute to treatments that give respite to more people with this draining condition.

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