Background: There is increasing recognition that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is not a homogeneous entity. It has been suggested that gender may contribute to the clinical and biological heterogeneity of OCD.
Methods: Two hundred and twenty patients (n=220; 107 male, 113 female) with DSM-IV OCD (age: 36.40+/-13.46) underwent structured interviews. A subset of Caucasian subjects (n=178), including subjects from the genetically homogeneous Afrikaner population (n=81), and of matched control subjects (n=161), was genotyped for polymorphisms in genes involved in monoamine function. Clinical and genetic data were statistically analyzed across gender.
Results: Compared with females, males with OCD (1) had an earlier age of onset, and a trend toward having more tics and worse outcome, (2) had somewhat differing patterns of OCD symptomatology and axis I comorbidity, and (3) in the Caucasian group, were more likely to have the high activity T allele of the EcoRV variant of the monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) gene compared to controls, and (4) in the Afrikaner subgroup, were more frequently homozygous for the C allele at the G861C variant of the 5HT(1D beta) gene than controls. Females with OCD (1) reported more sexual abuse during childhood than males, (2) often noted changes in obsessive-compulsive symptoms in the premenstrual/menstrual period as well as during/shortly after pregnancy, and with menopause, and (3) in the Caucasian subgroup, were more frequently homozygous for the low activity C allele of the EcoRV variant of the MAO-A gene compared to controls, with this allele also more frequent in female patients than controls.
Conclusion: This study supports the hypothesis that gender contributes to the clinical and biological heterogeneity of OCD. A sexually dimorphic pattern of genetic susceptibility to OCD may be present. Further work is, however, needed to delineate the mechanisms that are responsible for mediating the effects of gender.