Obsessive-compulsive disorder and ventromedial frontal lesions: clinical and neuropsychological findings

Am J Psychiatry. 1998 Feb;155(2):255-63. doi: 10.1176/ajp.155.2.255.


Objective: The authors sought to determine the long-term outcome of subjects with severe and refractory obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who had undergone ventromedial frontal leukotomy during the 1970s. Special emphasis was given to the analysis of specific lesion sites.

Method: Sixteen OCD subjects who had undergone ventromedial frontal leukotomy were evaluated clinically and neuropsychologically and compared to seven well comparison OCD subjects without leukotomy. The 16 leukotomized subjects were divided into three groups according to the main lesion sites as determined by current magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Results: The leukotomized OCD subjects showed significant improvement of obsessive-compulsive symptoms; subjects with frontostriatal lesions tended to have improved most. The subjects with combined diagnoses of OCD and obsessive personality disorder (N = 3) had improved significantly less. Of 11 subjects with lesions of the ventral striatum, eight had developed substance dependence postoperatively. Intellectual functions were largely preserved in subjects with ventromedial frontal lesions only or frontostriatal lesions. However, all subjects showed subnormal performance on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. Subjects with lesions of the dorsolateral frontal convexity also showed memory problems, attentional slowing, and lower performance IQ.

Conclusions: Restricted ventromedial frontal leukotomy should be discussed as a last-resort treatment for severe and refractory OCD but not obsessive personality disorder. Lesions of the ventral striatum were significantly related to the occurrence of substance dependence, suggesting a role of this area in human addictive behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / diagnosis
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Comorbidity
  • Compulsive Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Corpus Striatum / pathology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Frontal Lobe / surgery
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / surgery*
  • Psychosurgery*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome