Researchers study new way to treat obsessive compulsive disorder by targeting specific brain receptor

People with OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder, may experience obsessive thoughts, or compulsive, repetitive behaviors.

Some people report having both - and the symptoms can be quite severe.

Now, researchers are developing a new approach to treating OCD that targets a specific receptor in the brain.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a chronic mental disorder where thoughts you don't want become behaviors you can't stop. And it can severely impact the quality of life. One expert knows first-hand, because she's also a patient.

Elizabeth McIngvale, PhD, is an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

"I've lived with OCD since childhood. I was diagnosed when I was 12 and have been in treatment ever since," she said.

She used to ask her mom if it was okay when wanting to touch something at school, for example.

"Then it transferred into a lot of contamination rituals, spending a lot of time in the shower. Fearing I hadn't done something enough, I wasn't clean enough. I was going to contaminate other people," McIngvale said.

OCD is rooted in fear, which feeds anxiety and brings about the unwanted behavior. Currently, psychologists offer cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the most common treatment.

Exposure and responsive prevention is a type of CBT that exposes patients to the thing they fear. Prozac and Anafranil are approved medications that can be given to children. For adults, doctors may prescribe Zoloft or Paxill to help symptoms.

But now, Baylor College of Medicine researchers are studying something new.

They're looking at medications that target glutamate in the brain, a neurotransmitter that sends signals to other cells.

"Some recent information suggests that there might be a third messenger that naturally occurs called glutamate. Thereby having an improved response to antidepressants," said researcher Eric Storch, PhD.

Drugs used to treat Alzheimer's and ALS appear to show promise in targeting glutamate OCD patients.

For McIngvale, who might only get several minutes a day without intrusive thoughts, it's clearly critical to find a better way. She started the Peace of Mind Foundation, to offer resources and support groups for OCD patients.

"I can understand someone's pain and I can truly believe with all my belief system, that they can get better," she said.
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