Researchers found that brain stimulation, delivered over five days, reduced obsessive-compulsive tendencies for three months, though in people who did not have full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
It’s too early to say whether the approach can be translated into an OCD therapy, said researcher Shrey Grover, a PhD student in psychological and brain sciences at Boston University. “We need more research to replicate these findings. It will take time before this is widely available.”
But the work, described online Jan. 18 in Nature Medicine, builds on a body of research into the underpinnings of OCD.
Research has shown that people with OCD have difficulty processing “rewards” from the environment, Grover explained. So they become reliant on certain rituals, whether it’s compulsively washing their hands, making sure household items are placed a particular way or checking that appliances are turned off.
First, the researchers found they were able to influence volunteers’ “reward-based” behavior during a standard test, by using [transcranial alternating current stimulation, or] tACS currents that were individualized to each person’s natural frequency in the brain’s reward-processing network.
Then, in a separate experiment, the investigators found that applying the brain stimulation for 30 minutes on five consecutive days reduced participants’ obsessive-compulsive behaviors for up to three months.