Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a heterogeneous disorder: Evidence from diffusion tensor imaging and magnetization transfer imaging

Alexander Glahn*, Tino Prell, Julian Grosskreutz, Thomas Peschel, Kirsten R. Müller-Vahl

*Corresponding author for this work
24 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Current models of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) propose abnormalities of cortico-striatal circuits that involve the orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus and the striatum. Nevertheless, during the last years, results of morphometric studies were contradictory. Since fully automated whole-brain voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) are used to assess structural changes in OCD patients, increased consistent evidence has been reported that brain abnormalities are not limited exclusively to the "affective" orbitofronto-striatal circuit. Moreover, several studies conducted using a symptom dimensional approach demonstrated that different symptoms are mediated by distinct neural systems. Method: We investigated structural brain abnormalities in 14 carefully selected adult (≥18 years), male and unmedicated patients with OCD - separately for obsession and compulsion scores (Y-BOCS) - compared to 20 healthy controls as reflected according to white matter changes by fractional anisotropy and apparent diffusion coefficient. Moreover, this is the first study in OCD patients, using magnetization transfer imaging (MTI). This method is said to be more sensitive to subtle structural brain changes than conventional volumetric imaging. Results: In our study, we show a positive correlation between MTR and Y-BOCS obsession scores with an increased integrity of tissue structure in the parietal cortex, including myelination and axonal density reflected by the magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) which was used for the first time in our study. Furthermore, Y-BOCS scores for compulsions correlated negatively with ADC-maps in the left nucleus lentiformis and the cingulum. Conclusion: The results support the hypothesis that OCD is a heterogeneous disorder with distinct neural correlates across symptom dimensions and call for a substantial revision of such a model that takes into account the heterogeneity of the disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Article number135
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25.06.2015
Externally publishedYes

Research Areas and Centers

  • Centers: Center for Neuromuscular Diseases


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