Mapping structural brain alterations in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Jesús Pujol, Carles Soriano-Mas, Pino Alonso, Narcís Cardoner, José M Menchón, Joan Deus, Julio Vallejo
Archives of General Psychiatry 2004, 61 (7): 720-30

BACKGROUND: Recent technical developments have made it feasible to comprehensively assess brain anatomy in psychiatric populations.

OBJECTIVE: To describe the structural brain alterations detected in the magnetic resonance images of a large series of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) using imaging procedures that allow the evaluation of volume changes throughout the brain.

DESIGN: Case-control study.

SETTING: Referral OCD unit in a tertiary hospital.

PARTICIPANTS: A consecutive sample of 72 outpatients with OCD and 72 age- and sex-matched control subjects.

INTERVENTIONS: Three-dimensional sequences were obtained in all participants. A statistical parametric mapping approach was used to delineate possible anatomical alterations in the entire brain. To preserve volumetric information, voxel values were modulated by the Jacobian determinants (volume change measurement) derived from spatial normalization.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Voxelwise brain volumes.

RESULTS: The brains of patients with OCD showed reduced gray matter volume in the medial frontal gyrus, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, and the left insulo-opercular region. A relative increase in gray matter volume was observed bilaterally in the ventral part of the putamen and in the anterior cerebellum. All these brain alterations were abnormally correlated in patients with OCD, and age statistically significantly contributed to the relative enlargement observed in the striatal areas. Disease severity, the nature of symptoms, and comorbidities were not related to the changes described. Nevertheless, patients with prominent aggressive obsessions and checking compulsions showed reduced amygdala volume in the right hemisphere.

CONCLUSIONS: The pattern of anatomical features depicted by this voxelwise approach is consistent with data from functional studies. The reported anatomical maps identified the specific parts of the frontostriatal system that were altered in patients with OCD and detected changes in anatomically connected distant regions. These data further define the structural brain alterations in OCD and may contribute to constraining the prevailing biological models of this psychiatric process.

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