Here’s an excerpt from this fascinating article from SciAm:

A research team studying brain signals in mice accidentally stumbled upon what could be an important discovery that could lead to understanding and successfully treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The finding identifies a new potential target for treating the psychological syndrome, which affects some 2.2 million Americans and is characterized by symptoms including anxiety and excessive behavior such as repeated hand washing and pulling out one’s own hair.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center made the discovery after deleting a gene in mice while studying neuronal communication in the striatum, a structure in the midbrain that plays a role in information processing, decision making and movement. They had set up 24-hour video surveillance of the critters in their cages after the animals developed skin lesions on their heads and necks four to six months after their birth.

“These mice stay by themselves and are grooming themselves all the time,” says Guoping Feng, an assistant professor of neurobiology at Duke and co-author of a report on the findings published in Nature. He says the mice also show telltale signs of anxiety, hewing to the sides of their cages and staying out of both bright and open spaces.

“We were not specifically looking for OCD … the phenotype itself is by accident,” notes Feng. But, the serendipitous discovery shows “how synaptic dysfunction can lead to abnormal function.”

Obsessive thinking is characteristic of most anxiety disorders. If you ever find yourself stuck on a specific fear, then you’ve experienced obsessive thinking. Unfortunately, OCD is typically characterized in the media as purely obsessive behaviors while ignoring the obsessive thinking that causes these behaviors. This is why any research on OCD is beneficial to anyone experiencing chronic fear.