Researchers have discovered a genetic marker which they believe is linked to the psychiatric condition, obsessive compulsive disorder. Although it may not seem like much at the moment, researchers believe this finding will bring them a step closer to identifying the OCD gene, and eventually developing more effective treatment options.

In the study, a team of researchers analyzed the DNA of 5,061 individuals (1,406 people with OCD, more than 1,000 close relatives of those with the condition, and members from the general public). Medical News Today reports that through this information the researchers were able to conclude that patients with OCD had a “significant association” on chromosome 9. This is near a gene called protein tyrosine phosphokinase (PTPRD).

Genetic Marker… Not Gene

The genetic marker found is not specifically abnormal, but it does bring researchers a step closer to uncovering the exact variant associated with OCD, said Dr. Gerald Nestadt, lead researcher of the study. As of now, the precise genetic cause of OCD is still unknown. “The idea is that if we know what chemical or protein is affected in the condition, then we can work out what problem is in the brain that causes the condition and the next step is to find a pharmaceutical that changes that or affects that so as to improve the condition,” Nestadt explained.

This finding brings a full circle to the information they already knew about the gene PTPRD. For example, in animals it was observed that this gene was involved with learning and memory, areas that are affected by OCD in humans. Also, this gene has been associated with some cases of ADHD, a condition similar to OCD. Lastly PTRD cooperates with another gene family called SLITRK, which is linked to OCD in animals. “OCD research has lagged behind other psychiatric disorders in terms of genetics. We hope this interesting finding brings us closer to making better sense of it and helps us find ways to treat it," Nestadt explained to Medical News Today.

What is OCD?

OCD affects an estimated two percent of the U.S. population; however, Fox News reports that it is one of the least understood mental illnesses. It is marked by intrusive thoughts and images in an individual’s mind and repetitive behavior, all aimed at reducing one’s level of anxiety. Current treatments for the condition include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) medications and behavioral psychotherapy. Sadly, these are not 100 percent effective, do not work for every patient, and only treat the symptoms of the disease. “Like most other medical and psychological conditions, we need to understand what causes conditions, so we can develop real and rational treatments for these conditions and/or prevention,” Nestadt explained to Fox News. As of now, the only known risk factor for developing OCD is having a close family member with the condition. Nearly 40 percent of those with the condition have a first-degree relative who also suffers from OCD.

Underrepresented Condition

Genetic research into other conditions has been quite abundant. It is a main part of the research of physical diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This is not so much the case for OCD. Nestadt believes this is because there are fewer researchers interested in the condition and not as many available funds for OCD studies. “We all have friends who say, ‘Well, I’m a little OCD.’ I think that has actually hurt the individuals who truly suffer from the condition — everybody thinks of it as a joke or not serious or not disabling. If you seriously meet someone who has OCD and see what life is like, you’ll absolutely change your mind,” Nestadt added.

Future of OCD

While the findings may not significantly change the lives of someone with OCD, researchers hope that this information can set the foundation for future studies that may be able to improve the lives of OCD patients and their children. Another recent study suggests that dogs may be able to serve as a model of OCD in humans. Current OCD therapies and drugs do not work very well in dogs or humans, but “If we can figure out precisely which brain circuits are disrupted in OCD patients, this could lead to more effective and targeted treatments,” Elinor Karsson, a senior author of the study, told Medical News Today.

Source: Matteisen M, Samuels JF, Wang Y, et al. Genome-wide association study in obsessive-compulsive disorder :results from the OCGAS. Molecular Psychiatry. 2014.