10 November 2005

OCD in the genes?

If you have Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you’re not alone. The chances are good that a family member may also have it.

If you have Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you’re not alone. The disorder is found in 2-3% of the population, and the chances are good that a family member may have been among this group.

According to Christine Lochner, research coordinator at the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders, research has shown that approximately 35% of OCD sufferers have a close family member who also suffers from the disorder.

Research into the genetic influences is a rapidly advancing area of research and several candidate genes for OCD have already been proposed (e.g. catechol-O-methyl transferase).

“Despite strong evidence for genetic susceptibility, no single or specific gene has been unambiguously identified for anxiety disorders such as OCD, panic or social anxiety disorder. Many researchers believe that this is due, in part, to the critical role that the environment plays in modulating genetic susceptibility in mental disorders,” says Lochner.

“Genetic characterisation of affected individuals may render insight into molecular and biochemical subcategories of the disorder that clinicians may not be able to discern, offering great promise for advancing diagnosis and treatment of the mental disorders.”

Research project
The Genetics of Anxiety Disorders Research Project at the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress disorders, aims to identify factors contributing to the development of anxiety disorders in the South African population. This research focuses mainly on OCD and related disorders (i.e. Tourette’s syndrome, trichotillomania and body dysmorphic disorder), panic and social anxiety disorder. The investigations focus primarily on the interplay between environmental (e.g. childhood trauma, brain injuries, streptococcal infections, etc) and genetic factors.

The evaluations include a detailed structured interview by trained researchers, as well as various measurements of symptom severity and symptom impact on quality of life. Associated disorders and behavioural patterns are measured with established and newly developed scales, and include computer based cognitive testing.

Furthermore, DNA is isolated from each individual’s blood and tested for variants of specific genes involved in brain metabolism.

In addition, the pedigrees of Afrikaner OCD sufferers have been actively researched for the past two years in order to ascertain shared ancestry between apparently unrelated sufferers. This will help to detect even those genes that play only a minor role in the disease, by analysing the gene variants of affected individuals in family-based subsets. These candidate genes can then be tested in other ethnic groups as susceptibility factors for the development of OCD.

How to participate
If you are interested in taking part in the research, contact the Mental Health Information Centre at at (021) 938 9229.

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