The thalamus and its subnuclei-a gateway to obsessive-compulsive disorder

Transl Psychiatry. 2022 Feb 21;12(1):70. doi: 10.1038/s41398-022-01823-2.


Larger thalamic volume has been found in children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and children with clinical-level symptoms within the general population. Particular thalamic subregions may drive these differences. The ENIGMA-OCD working group conducted mega- and meta-analyses to study thalamic subregional volume in OCD across the lifespan. Structural T1-weighted brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from 2649 OCD patients and 2774 healthy controls across 29 sites (50 datasets) were processed using the FreeSurfer built-in ThalamicNuclei pipeline to extract five thalamic subregions. Volume measures were harmonized for site effects using ComBat before running separate multiple linear regression models for children, adolescents, and adults to estimate volumetric group differences. All analyses were pre-registered ( ) and adjusted for age, sex and intracranial volume. Unmedicated pediatric OCD patients (<12 years) had larger lateral (d = 0.46), pulvinar (d = 0.33), ventral (d = 0.35) and whole thalamus (d = 0.40) volumes at unadjusted p-values <0.05. Adolescent patients showed no volumetric differences. Adult OCD patients compared with controls had smaller volumes across all subregions (anterior, lateral, pulvinar, medial, and ventral) and smaller whole thalamic volume (d = -0.15 to -0.07) after multiple comparisons correction, mostly driven by medicated patients and associated with symptom severity. The anterior thalamus was also significantly smaller in patients after adjusting for thalamus size. Our results suggest that OCD-related thalamic volume differences are global and not driven by particular subregions and that the direction of effects are driven by both age and medication status.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Thalamus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Thalamus* / pathology