Some people have an extreme fear of dirt or bacteria. As a result, they may develop a habit of compulsive washing and repeatedly cleaning their hands or body. They are trapped in a vicious circle, as the fear of new contamination returns quickly after washing. Sufferers see no way out. They are even incapable of changing their behavior when the excessive washing has led to skin irritation or damage. Approximately two percent of the general population suffer from some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) at least once in their life. The disorder is characterized by persistent intrusive thoughts which the sufferers try to compensate for by repetitive ritualized behavior. Like depression, eating disorders, and other mental diseases, OCD is treated with antidepressants. However, the drugs are non-specific, that is they are not tailored to the respective disease. Therefore, scientists have been looking for new and better targeted therapies that have fewer side-effects. Professor Kai Schuh from the Institute of Physiology at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg (Germany) and his team have explored the underlying causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder in collaboration with the JMU's Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology. "We were able to show in mouse models that the absence of the protein SPRED2 alone can trigger an excessive grooming behavior," Dr. Schuh says. He believes that this finding is crucial as no clear trigger for this type of disorder has been identified until now. Previous research pointed to multiple factors being responsible for developing OCD. Occurring in all cells of the body, the protein SPRED2 is found in particularly high concentrations in regions of the brain, namely in the basal ganglia and the amygdala.
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