Possible role of neuropeptides in obsessive compulsive disorder

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1999 Jan;24(1):1-24. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4530(98)00046-8.


The most consistent finding in clinical research of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is the significant treatment advantage of potent serotonin uptake inhibitors (SUIs) over other classes of antidepressant and antianxiety drugs. Clinical neurobiological studies of OCD, however, have yielded limited and inconsistent evidence for significant fundamental abnormalities in monoamine systems including serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Furthermore, one-third to one-half of OCD patients do not experience a clinically meaningful improvement with SUI treatment. Investigation beyond the monoamine systems may be necessary in order to more fully understand the pathophysiology of obsessive-compulsive symptoms and develop improved treatments. Evidence from preclinical studies suggests that neuropeptides may have important influences on memory acquisition, maintenance and retrieval; grooming, maternal, sexual and aggressive behavior; fixed action patterns; and stereotyped behavior; these phenomena may relate to some features of OCD. In addition, extensive interactions have been identified in the brain between neuropeptidergic and monoaminergic systems, including co-localization among specific populations of neurons. The purpose of this review is to present the current knowledge of the role of neuropeptides in the clinical neurobiology of children, adolescents and adults with OCD focusing primarily on results from pharmacological challenge and cerebrospinal fluid studies. Where evidence exists, developmentally regulated differences in neuropeptide function between children and adolescents versus adults with OCD will be emphasized; these data are intended to underscore the potential importance of establishing the age of symptom onset (childhood versus adult) in individual patients with OCD participating in clinical neurobiological investigations. Likewise, where information is available, differences in measures of neuropeptides between patients with non-tic-related OCD versus tic-related OCD will be highlighted; these data will demonstrate the critical value of diagnostic precision, as these two particular subtypes of OCD may have different neurochemical underpinnings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / physiology
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Biogenic Amines / physiology
  • Child
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology
  • Female
  • Grooming / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / physiology*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Opioid Peptides / physiology
  • Oxytocin / physiology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / physiology
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / physiology
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Somatostatin / physiology
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / physiopathology
  • Tic Disorders / physiopathology


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Neuropeptides
  • Opioid Peptides
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • Receptors, Vasopressin
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Oxytocin
  • Somatostatin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone