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Gene May Help Spur Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Mice with the mutation exhibited fearful, repetitive behaviors, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Mice with a particular gene mutation behave much like humans with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), scientists report.

The rodents have a genetic flaw that prevents their brain cells from producing a protein called SAPAP3, according to a Duke University Medical Center-led study.

SAPAP3 plays an important role in the transmission of signals between brain cells.

Mice lacking this protein were afraid to move out of the corner of their cages and compulsively groomed their faces until they bled.

"The mice that could not produce this protein exhibited behaviors similar to that of humans with OCD, a compulsive action coupled with increased anxiety," team leader Guoping Feng, a Duke molecular geneticist, said in a prepared statement.

When the mice were given a replacement dose of SAPAP3 in an area of the brain called the striatum (which controls the planning and execution of movement), many of them showed improvement. The same was true when they were given drugs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- SSRIs) used to treat humans with OCD.

The study, which is published in the Aug. 23 issue of the journal Nature, may offer important clues about a possible mechanism for OCD, which affects about two percent of the world's population.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about OCD.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Aug. 22, 2007

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