Symptom Dimensions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as Predictors of Neurobiology and Treatment Response

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose of review: Specific symptom dimensions of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been suggested as an approach to reduce the heterogeneity of obsessive-compulsive disorder, predict treatment outcome, and relate to brain structure and function. Here, we review studies addressing these issues. Recent findings: The contamination and symmetry/ordering dimensions have not been reliably associated with treatment outcome. Some studies found that greater severity of sexual/aggressive/religious symptoms predicted a worse outcome after cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a better outcome after serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). Contamination symptoms have been related to increased amygdala and insula activation in a few studies, while sexual/aggressive/religious symptoms have also been related to more pronounced alterations in the function and structure of the amygdala. Increased pre-treatment limbic responsiveness has been related to better outcomes of CBT, but most imaging studies show that important limitations and replication in large-scale studies is needed. We review possible reasons for the strong limbic involvement of the amygdala in patients with more sexual/aggressive/religious symptoms, in relation to their sensitivity to CBT. Summary: Symptom dimensions may predict treatment outcome, and patients with sexual/religious/aggressive symptoms are at a greater risk of not starting or delaying treatment. This is likely partly due to more shame and perceived immorality which is also related to stronger amygdala response. Competently delivered CBT is likely to help these patients improve to the same degree as patients with other symptoms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-194
Number of pages13
JournalCurrent treatment options in psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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