Pooch Prescription: How dogs help treat OCD in humans - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Pooch Prescription: How dogs help treat OCD in humans

Posted: Updated:

Here's another reason to love a dog: our best friend is helping scientists identify the genetic variations that may lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in people, according to new research. Because the human and canine versions are often similar — dogs may lick their paws to the point of injury while people may wash their hands until they bleed — the hope is these and other findings will help researchers develop new medications to treat the debilitating disorder.

Certain dog breeds, including German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, bull terriers and Shetland sheepdogs, are prone to high rates of OCD. Scientists suspected that some of the same genetic mechanisms might underlie compulsions in people, such as repetitive behaviors or intense stress when objects aren't in the right order. 

Researchers from the Broad Institute in Massachusetts and Uppsala University in Sweden pinpointed four genes with variants, or changes, that were present in dogs with OCD, but not in a comparison group of greyhounds and Leonbergers or "Lion Dogs," neither of which have high rates of canine OCD. The four genes are involved in forming and regulating synapses, which are simply connections between brain cells that allow them to transmit information.

When thousands or millions of cells are connected this way they form a brain circuit, explains co-senior author Elinor Karlsson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute and at the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University. Scientists hypothesized that in dogs with OCD, and perhaps humans with OCD, the circuit that tells us when a task is complete, for example, is somehow broken. 

"Basically, maybe there's no message being sent that says a task is completed, it's time to stop," she explains.

Human OCD is of course much more complex than canine OCD, but the canine genes could nevertheless shed light on what has gone wrong in the human brain. 

"Dogs have a simpler genetic architecture, and that simpler architecture gives us a lot of really important clues about human OCD," explains co-first author Hyun Ji, Ph.D., also a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute.

OCD affects about one in 100 adults and at least one in 200 children and teens, according to the International OCD Foundation in Boston, MA. Depending on severity, treatment can involve a combination of counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications, such as anti-depressants.

"The right treatment is effective, but there are barriers to treatment such as stigma and misdiagnosis," says executive director, Jeff Szymanski, Ph.D. the Foundation's executive director. There is also a lot of misunderstanding. "I'm extremely organized, so I keep my desk neat because I want to, but a person with OCD has intense anxiety, time-consuming and embarrassing compulsive behaviors that they know are irrational and don't want to do, but can't stop."

Animal lovers will be relieved to know that dogs with OCD respond well to the canine version of OCD treatment, such as medication and behavior modification. 

"Dogs are a really powerful model for us, and eventually the hope is to help both dogs and humans with OCD," says Karlsson. "We owe a big debt of gratitude to the dogs and their humans who send in the DNA."

The new research is soon to be published in the online journal Genome Biology.

  • Most Popular on WRCBtv.comMost Popular on WRCBtv.comMore>>

  • Special Kneads: A new Georgia bakery

    Special Kneads: A new Georgia bakery

    Monday, September 1 2014 10:18 PM EDT2014-09-02 02:18:16 GMT
     A small bakery in Georgia is getting big support from the community.  The bakery is also getting noticed for what it's doing that is unlike anywhere else and a hint is in the name.

    More
     A small bakery in Georgia is getting big support from the community.  The bakery is also getting noticed for what it's doing that is unlike anywhere else and a hint is in the name.


    More
  • Civil disobedience expected in fast-food pay fight

    Civil disobedience expected in fast-food pay fight

    Monday, September 1 2014 10:50 PM EDT2014-09-02 02:50:53 GMT
    McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast-food restaurants are expected to be targeted with acts of civil disobedience that could lead to arrests Thursday as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the industry's workers.More
    McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast-food restaurants are expected to be targeted with acts of civil disobedience that could lead to arrests Thursday as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the industry's workers.More
  • Vols' "3rd Down for What" is a hit inside Neyland Stadium

    Vols' "3rd Down for What" is a hit inside Neyland Stadium

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 12:00 AM EDT2014-09-02 04:00:16 GMT
    Sports - Tennessee VolsSports - Tennessee Vols
    If General Neyland were around today it's safe to say Lil Jon and "Turn Down for What" wouldn't be on his iPod, but you have to wonder if he'd be bobbing his head to the remix inside the stadium named after him. More
    If General Neyland were around today it's safe to say Lil Jon and "Turn Down for What" wouldn't be on his iPod, but you have to wonder if he'd be bobbing his head to the remix inside the stadium named after him. More
Powered by WorldNow
Can't find what you're looking for?

WRCB-TV
900 Whitehall Road
Chattanooga, TN 37405
(423) 267-5412

WRCB Jobs EEO | FCC Public Files

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WRCB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.