Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is associated with a range of emotional abnormalities linked to its defining symptoms, comorbid illnesses and cognitive deficits. The aim of this preliminary study was to examine functional changes in the brain that are associated with experimentally induced sad mood in patients with OCD compared with healthy controls in a frontolimbic circuit relevant to both OCD and mood regulation.
Participants underwent a validated sad mood induction procedure during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Analyses focused on mapping changes in the functional connectivity of the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) within and between the 2 groups in response to successfully induced sadness.
We enrolled 11 patients with OCD and 10 age-, sex- and IQ-matched controls in our study. Unlike controls, patients with OCD did not demonstrate predicted increases in functional connectivity between the subgenual ACC and other frontal regions during mood induction. Instead, patients demonstrated heightened connectivity between the subgenual ACC and ventral caudate/nucleus accumbens region and the hypothalamus.
Our study included a small, partially medicated patient cohort that precluded our ability to investigate sex or drug effects, evaluate behavioural differences between the groups and perform a whole-brain analysis.
The ventral striatum and ventral frontal cortex were distinctly and differentially modulated in their connectivity with the subgenual ACC during the experience of sad mood in patients with OCD. These results suggest that, in patients with OCD, induced sadness appears to have provoked a primary subcortical component of the hypothesized “OCD circuit,” which may offer insights into why OCD symptoms tend to develop and worsen during disturbed emotional states.