Dr. Simpson describes the causes of obsessive compulsive disorder/OCD.
The simple answer is we don’t know what causes OCD. What we know is that OCD has been associated with a hyperactive circuit in the brain that includes the orbital frontal cortex involved in planning and decision making, the basal ganglia, which is involved in motor acts and motor learning and habits, and the thalamus, which filters information coming into our nervous system. And what we know is that that circuit does not seem to be functioning normally in OCD.
In addition, there are other parts of the brain that we think also contribute to the symptoms of OCD. Now that’s the brain circuit’s underlying OCD, that’s what generates the obsessions and compulsions, but what causes the brain circuit to be abnormal, that’s a different question. And that’s what I would call etiology of the disorder, and there we have a lot of different clues. There could be a lot of different ways that brain circuit becomes abnormal, including a genetic vulnerability to OCD, infectious causes, environmental causes, and so in the end, we say, well, we think OCD is caused by some combination of genes, the environment, and development.
About Dr. Simpson, M.D., Ph.D.:
Helen Blair Simpson, M.D., Ph.D., an expert on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, New York City, where she directs the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and OCD Research Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She was a member of the work group that developed the first “Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients With OCD” for the American Psychiatric Association.
Through her research, Dr. Simpson is working to trace the brain circuits believed to play a major role in the development of obsessions and compulsions, and she has developed novel approaches to treatment. Her research has been supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator grant.