Obsessive compulsive disorder is prevalent, disabling, incompletely understood, and often resistant to current therapies. Established treatments consist of specialized cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy with medications targeting serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission. However, remission is rare, and more than a quarter of OCD sufferers receive little or no benefit from these approaches, even when they are optimally delivered. New insights into the disorder, and new treatment strategies, are urgently needed. Recent evidence suggests that the ubiquitous excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate is dysregulated in OCD, and that this dysregulation may contribute to the pathophysiology of the disorder. Here we review the current state of this evidence, including neuroimaging studies, genetics, neurochemical investigations, and insights from animal models. Finally, we review recent findings from small clinical trials of glutamate-modulating medications in treatment-refractory OCD. The precise role of glutamate dysregulation in OCD remains unclear, and we lack blinded, well-controlled studies demonstrating therapeutic benefit from glutamate-modulating agents. Nevertheless, the evidence supporting some important perturbation of glutamate in the disorder is increasingly strong. This new perspective on the pathophysiology of OCD, which complements the older focus on monoaminergic neurotransmission, constitutes an important focus of current research and a promising area for the ongoing development of new therapeutics.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.