Changes in the brain after concentrated exposure treatment for OCD

Brain Plasitcity and the Bergen 4-day Format

​Concentrated exposure treatment (cET) helps many patients with OCD to recover, but what happens in the brain when they do so? The OCD-team is currently completing the first study able to measure changes in the brain directly after treatment. This is one of the largest studies combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and treatment for OCD.
The study includes 30 patients with OCD and 30 matched healthy controls, and use several measures of brain structure and function. Brain imaging is performed the day before treatment starts, one week afterwards, and after three months. The combination of concentrated treatment and imaging directly after treatment gives the study a unique opportunity to help us understand how treatment changes the brain.

Imaging measures include:

  • High resolution T1-weighted structural imaging
  • Resting-state functional image
  • Tower of London task
  • Stop Signal Task
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex

The study is performed in collaboration with Professor Odile A. van den Heuvel at the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is a leading expert in the neuroimaging of OCD and anxiety disorders, and also co-chairs the Enhancing NeuroImaging and Genetics by Mega-Analysis (ENIGMA) OCD working group. The study will also contribute to the ENIGMA working group, and help the field gain a better understanding of how OCD relates to the brain.

Anders Lillevik Thorsen is the current PhD student in the project, under the supervision of Odile A. van den Heuvel, Gerd Kvale, Bjarne Hansen, and international collaborators.

The study is approved by the Regional Ethics Committee south-east (2015/936) and is financed by the Helse Vest Health Authority (No. 911754 and 911880).

Related publications

Thorsen, A. L., van den Heuvel, O. A., Hansen, B., & Kvale, G. (2015). Neuroimaging of psychotherapy for obsessive–compulsive disorder: a systematic review. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 233(3), 306-313.

Thorsen, A. L., Hagland, P., Radua, J., Mataix-Cols, D., Kvale, G., Hansen, B., & A., V. d. H. O. (In revision). Emotional processing in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 functional neuroimaging studies.

Thorsen, A. L., Kvale, G., Hansen, B., van den Heuvel, O.A. (Submitted). Symptom dimensions in obsessive-compulsive disorder as predictors of neurobiology and treatment response.

Related international conference presentations:

September 2015: International College of Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorders (ICOCS), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
August 2016: Valerius Symposium, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
May 2017: Society of Biological Psychiatry, San Diego, USA.

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