Research prods brain wiring underlying compulsive behavior

Mouse experiments offer insights, potential for new treatment strategies in humans

2:35pm, June 6, 2013

Two research teams have figured out how to flip a switch in the brain circuits of mice that compels the animals to groom themselves with their paws over and over. The findings may yield new strategies for reducing compulsive behavior such as repetitive hand washing in humans who have obsessive-compulsive disorder  and other diseases marked by the trait such as autism and Tourette syndrome.

In one set of experiments, researchers stimulated a particular neural pathway, generating repetitive, excessive grooming in the mice. A second set of experiments with mutant mice used the same pathway to eliminate the compulsive behavior. The studies are published in the June 7 Science.

“In tandem, this is really a leap forward towards a refined understanding of the circuitry underlying these behaviors,” says psychiatrist Scott Rauch of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

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