Defining functional brain networks underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) using treatment-induced neuroimaging changes: a systematic review of the literature

Approximately 2%–3% of the population suffers from obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). Several brain regions have been implicated in the pathophysiology of OCD, but their various contributions remain unclear. We examined changes in structural and functional neuroimaging before and after a variety of therapeutic interventions as an index into identifying the underlying networks involved. We identified 64 studies from 1990 to 2020 comparing pretreatment and post-treatment imaging of patients with OCD, including metabolic and perfusion, neurochemical, structural, functional and connectivity-based modalities. Treatment class included pharmacotherapy, cognitive–behavioural therapy/exposure and response prevention, stereotactic lesions, deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Changes in several brain regions are consistent and correspond with treatment response despite the heterogeneity in treatments and neuroimaging modalities. Most notable are decreases in metabolism and perfusion of the caudate, anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus and regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC) including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC), ventromedial PFC (VMPFC) and ventrolateral PFC (VLPFC). Modulating activity within regions of the cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical system may be a common therapeutic mechanism across treatments. We identify future needs and current knowledge gaps that can be mitigated by implementing integrative methods. Future studies should incorporate a systematic, analytical approach to testing objective correlates of treatment response to better understand neurophysiological mechanisms of dysfunction.

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