Rapid effects of brief intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy on brain glucose metabolism in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Mol Psychiatry. 2009 Feb;14(2):197-205. doi: 10.1038/sj.mp.4002134. Epub 2008 Jan 8.


Brief intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) using exposure and response prevention significantly improves obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms in as little as 4 weeks. However, it has been thought that much longer treatment was needed to produce the changes in brain function seen in neuroimaging studies of OCD. We sought to elucidate the brain mediation of response to brief intensive CBT for OCD and determine whether this treatment could induce functional brain changes previously seen after longer trials of pharmacotherapy or standard CBT. [(18)F]-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography brain scans were obtained on 10 OCD patients before and after 4 weeks of intensive individual CBT. Twelve normal controls were scanned twice, several weeks apart, without treatment. Regional glucose metabolic changes were compared between groups. OCD symptoms, depression, anxiety and overall functioning improved robustly with treatment. Significant changes in normalized regional glucose metabolism were seen after brief intensive CBT (P=0.04). Compared to controls, OCD patients showed significant bilateral decreases in normalized thalamic metabolism with intensive CBT but had a significant increase in right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex activity that correlated strongly with the degree of improvement in OCD symptoms (P=0.02). The rapid response of OCD to intensive CBT is mediated by a distinct pattern of changes in regional brain function. Reduction of thalamic activity may be a final common pathway for improvement in OCD, but response to intensive CBT may require activation of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in reappraisal and suppression of negative emotions.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18 / metabolism
  • Functional Laterality
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / pathology*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / therapy*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Young Adult


  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Glucose