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Psychiatry Res. 2012 Jun 30;202(3):257-63. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2011.10.002. Epub 2012 Jul 16.

Early orbitofrontal hyperactivation in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité, Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Mitte, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany.


Dysfunctional activity in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is one of the core features in the pathophysiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Neuroimaging studies indicate orbitofrontal hyperactivation during the resting state as well as during symptom provocation, whereas orbitofrontal hypoactivation has been reported during tasks designed to dissociate specific cognitive processes. Combined magnetoencephalic and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies show early involvement of the OFC in stimulus processing in healthy subjects. However, it is unclear whether OFC activation is dysfunctional at an early stage in patients with OCD. We investigated early electrical OFC activation evoked by reward and punishment feedback in a visual probabilistic object reversal task (pORT). Patients with OCD (n=23) and healthy controls (n=27), matched for gender, age and educational level, performed the pORT during a 29-channel electroencephalographic recording. Low resolution brain electromagnetic tomography was applied to localize orbitofrontal sources of neuronal activity at 80 to 200 ms post-stimulus. Group comparison showed significantly higher orbitofrontal activation in OCD patients at 100-120 ms after the reward stimulus. No group differences were found with respect to OFC activation in response to punishment stimuli and in task performance. Results substantiate dysfunctional OFC activity at a very early stage in the processing of reward stimuli in patients with OCD. Our results provide support for the assumption that the OFC plays a more active role in the processing of visual stimuli as previously supposed. As orbitofrontal hyperactivation following rewarding feedback occurred as early as 100 ms after receipt of the visual stimulus in patients with OCD, and as we did not find any OFC dysfunction following negative feedback, our findings may point towards a specific early disturbance of reward processing in OCD. This finding might have implications for cognitive behavioural therapy of this disorder.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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