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A team of researchers at Boston University found that applying low-frequency electrical stimulation to the orbitofrontal cortex of patients with obsessive-compulsive behavior was shown to be effective in reducing such behaviors for up to three months. In their article published in the journal Nature Medicine, the group describes the use of the non-invasive technique to test its effectiveness on 124 volunteer patients.

Obsessive-compulsive behaviors encompass a wide range of activities, including behavior involving food addiction or gambling and other behaviors associated with OCD – for example, when people are trying to control their surroundings. The researchers claim that nearly 1 billion people suffer from one or more types of obsessive-compulsive behavior, and note that despite much research, there are very few options to treat people with these conditions.

Previous research has shown that such behaviors are likely associated with excessive habitual learning resulting from rewards as part of reinforcement learning. It has also been suggested that such reinforcement of learning occurs primarily in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. In this new effort, researchers wondered whether stimulating this part of the brain with low-frequency electricity tuned to the same frequency as the brain’s reward network could decrease this activity and lead to a decrease in compulsive behavior.

To find out, the researchers applied low-frequency electrical stimulation to the orbitofrontal cortices of 124 volunteer patients daily for five days. They then monitored the patients and looked for changes in behavior for several months.

The researchers found that electrical stimulation therapy resulted in a reduction in obsessive-compulsive behavior for up to three months. They found that the greatest benefits were seen in the patients with the worst symptoms. They suggest that low-frequency electrical stimulation could be used to treat people with compulsive behavior. They also note that their findings add more credibility to theories suggesting convergent mechanisms are related to learning rewards, and that similar therapies could be used for other related disorders.

Common neural circuit and potential target for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder

More information:
Shrey Grover, et al. High-frequency neuromodulation improves obsessive-compulsive behavior, Nature Medicine (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41591-020-01173-w

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Quote: Low-frequency electrical stimulation of the orbitofrontal cortex for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive behavior (2021, January 19), accessed January 19, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-01-low-frequency-electrical-orbitofrontal-cortex – obsessive-compulsive.html

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