Could stem cells treat obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Stem Cell Therapy for OCD

The term OCD—obsessive-compulsive disorder—is constantly and casually tossed around but rarely understood. Obsession involves thoughts, images or impulses that interrupt a person’s day-to-day living. It causes them to repeat activities even if doing so makes little sense.

The difference between OCD and someone having a one-off obsessive moment is this: Let’s a person who doesn’t have OCD usually washes his or her hands before lunch. But one day that person forgets to. He or she will likely be able to forget about the mishap and go on with eating their meal. A person suffering from OCD will struggle to get over the mistake, and it’ll weigh on them long after the incident.

OCD is a psychiatric condition that has stumped doctors for decades, but they may finally have found a way to stop it: stem cells. In a study published by the University of Utah, scientists found mice with mutations to the gene Hoxb8 located in microgilia brain cells were more likely to obsessively remove hair from their body. These animals also had fewer microgilia, which are immune cells that search for and clean up debris and pathogens in the brain.

It was a significant find because, as Mario Capecchi, one of the researchers, said, “No connection had ever been made between microglia and behavior.”

Scientists then traced the origin of microgilia to the mice’s bone marrow where the HoxB8 gene was part of the marrow’s stem cells. By introducing new, healthy stem cells to the brain, the mice stopped their scratching and pulling.

What does this have to do with stem cell treatments and OCD? By repopulating the brain with healthy microglia cells (ones that contain a non-mutated HoxB8 gene), one might assume this could help manage or treat obsessive compulsive disorder. More testing, however, is needed to verify this hypothesis.