Lateralized dysfunction has been suggested in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, it is currently unclear whether OCD is characterized by abnormal patterns of brain structural asymmetry. Here we carried out what is by far the largest study of brain structural asymmetry in OCD.
We studied a collection of 16 pediatric datasets (501 patients with OCD and 439 healthy control subjects), as well as 30 adult datasets (1777 patients and 1654 control subjects) from the OCD Working Group within the ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta Analysis) Consortium. Asymmetries of the volumes of subcortical structures, and of measures of regional cortical thickness and surface areas, were assessed based on T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans, using harmonized image analysis and quality control protocols. We investigated possible alterations of brain asymmetry in patients with OCD. We also explored potential associations of asymmetry with specific aspects of the disorder and medication status.
In the pediatric datasets, the largest case-control differences were observed for volume asymmetry of the thalamus (more leftward; Cohen's d = 0.19) and the pallidum (less leftward; d = -0.21). Additional analyses suggested putative links between these asymmetry patterns and medication status, OCD severity, or anxiety and depression comorbidities. No significant case-control differences were found in the adult datasets.
The results suggest subtle changes of the average asymmetry of subcortical structures in pediatric OCD, which are not detectable in adults with the disorder. These findings may reflect altered neurodevelopmental processes in OCD.