The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in normally developing compulsive-like behaviors and obsessive-compulsive disorder

Brain Cogn. 2004 Jun;55(1):220-34. doi: 10.1016/S0278-2626(03)00274-4.


Mounting evidence concerning obsessive-compulsive disorders points to abnormal functioning of the orbitofrontal cortices. First, patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) perform poorly on tasks that rely on response suppression/motor inhibition functions mediated by the orbitofrontal cortex relative to both normal and clinical controls. Second, patients with OCD exhibit functional hyperactivity in lateral orbitofrontal and related structures corresponding with symptom severity. In this article, we compare these neurocognitive correlates of OCD with the executive and neural underpinnings of "compulsive-like" behaviors that are common in normal childhood. We discuss the phenomenology and natural history of normative compulsive-like behaviors as well as the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive continuities between typical and pathological obsessive-compulsive behaviors. We then examine associations between children's executive performance deficits and their observed compulsive-like characteristics. We relate these patterns to executive deficits shown by adults with OCD. Finally, we speculate on the developmental neurobiology of children's compulsive-like behaviors, with particular attention to orbitofrontal functions including behavioral and emotional regulation, and we suggest similarities and differences with the neurobiology of OCD. In making these comparisons, we hope to open a dialogue between researchers who study underlying brain pathologies associated with OCD and those who explore the neurocognitive bases of normal development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / physiology
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Habits*
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*