Background: Direct comparisons of brain function between obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety or OCD spectrum disorders are rare. This study aimed to investigate the specificity of altered frontal-striatal and limbic activations during planning in OCD, a prototypical anxiety disorder (panic disorder) and a putative OCD spectrum disorder (hypochondriasis).
Method: The Tower of London task, a 'frontal-striatal' task, was used during functional magnetic resonance imaging measurements in 50 unmedicated patients, diagnosed with OCD (n=22), panic disorder (n=14) or hypochondriasis (n=14), and in 22 healthy subjects. Blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes were calculated for contrasts of interest (planning versus baseline and task load effects). Moreover, correlations between BOLD responses and both task performance and state anxiety were analysed.
Results: Overall, patients showed a decreased recruitment of the precuneus, caudate nucleus, globus pallidus and thalamus, compared with healthy controls. There were no statistically significant differences in brain activation between the three patient groups. State anxiety was negatively correlated with dorsal frontal-striatal activation. Task performance was positively correlated with dorsal frontal-striatal recruitment and negatively correlated with limbic and ventral frontal-striatal recruitment. Multiple regression models showed that adequate task performance was best explained by independent contributions from dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (positive correlation) and amygdala (negative correlation), even after controlling for state anxiety.
Conclusions: Patients with OCD, panic disorder and hypochondriasis share similar alterations in frontal-striatal brain regions during a planning task, presumably partly related to increased limbic activation.