Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The accidental compulsive

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center may have stumbled upon a new mouse model for a human psychiatric disorder.

While studying how nerve cells connect and communicate with each other, the group, turned off a gene in the area of the brain called the striatum, which shuttles messages from the cerbral cortex to other parts of the brain.

Much as people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may wash their hands repeatedly, the mutant mice groomed themselves incessantly, to the point where they injured themselves.

Some people with OCD are helped with selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (of which Prozac is an example). When they gave the drugs to the mutant mice, the grooming stopped.

We have no way of knowing what these mice are thinking. ("Did I remember to turn off the stove? Maybe I didn't. I'd better go back and check again...and again...and again.") But it's a start.

Read the news story from Nature here and a story from Scientific American (with a photo of an overgroomed mouse) here .