Illuminating the Neural Circuitry of Compulsive Behaviors

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Science  07 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6137, pp. 1174-1175
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239652

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and ritualized repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that are often unpleasant and time-consuming; those afflicted feel tormented and can be functionally disabled. Classic examples include obsessions about contamination, which are associated with anxiety and lead to washing compulsions. Compulsive behaviors are not unique to OCD but are a feature of numerous neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism, substance use disorders, and Tourette's disorder (1). The complexity of OCD is emblematic of the challenges inherent in developing animal models of psychiatric disorders, in that repetitive behavior is readily measured, whereas intrusive thoughts are exceedingly difficult to quantify. On pages 1234 and 1243 of this issue, Ahmari et al. (2) and Burguière et al. (3) describe, respectively, the use of optogenetics (4) to produce and relieve compulsive-like behaviors in animal models. Their pioneering work highlights how models that link genetics, neuroanatomy, physiology, and behavior in ways that cut across disorders (5) can provide promising opportunities for developing diagnostics and treatments in the field.