Functional neuroimaging in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Neuropsychobiology. 2011;64(2):61-85. doi: 10.1159/000325223. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Background and aim: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a severe, highly prevalent and chronically disabling psychiatric disorder that usually emerges during childhood or adolescence. This paper aims to review the literature on functional neuroimaging in OCD, analysing the reported dysfunctional connectivity in the corticostriatothalamocortical circuitry.

Method: This study included papers published in peer-reviewed journals dealing with functional imaging in OCD.

Results: Striatal dysfunction, mainly of the caudate nucleus, leads to inefficient thalamic gating, resulting in hyperactivity within the orbitofrontal cortex (intrusive thoughts) and the anterior cingulate cortex (non-specific anxiety). Compulsions consist of ritualistic behaviours performed to recruit the inefficient striatum and neutralise unwanted thoughts and anxiety. Functional neuroimaging findings are discussed against the background of specific cognitive impairments, mainly regarding visuospatial processing, executive functioning and motor speed. Cognitive deficits are partial and specific, matching imaging data.

Conclusions: Several studies have targeted brain regions hypothesised to be involved in the pathogenesis of OCD, showing the existence of dysfunctional connectivity in the corticostriatothalamocortical circuitry. Improvements in spatial resolution of neuroimaging techniques may contribute to a better understanding of the neurocircuitry of OCD and other anxiety disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Radionuclide Imaging