Research has shown that OCD involves increased brain activity in cortico-striatal circuits that connect the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) with other brain regions involved in performance monitoring and error detection. The error-related negativity (ERN) is a negative deflection in the electroencephalogram (EEG) that occurs very soon after a person makes a mistake, and is thought to reflect ACC activity and serve as an alarm signal to increase cognitive control and adjust behavior.
Dr. Hanna and his team studied whether the ERN could serve as a biomarker for pediatric OCD by comparing the ERN in 40 pediatric OCD patients, 19 of their siblings without OCD, and 40 healthy control participants aged 10-17. By recording EEG activity in participants while they performed a task that creates response conflict, the team found that ERN amplitude was higher in pediatric OCD patients and their siblings without OCD compared to the control group. ERN responses were not related to symptom severity, diagnostic status, or treatment. Another study with 26 pediatric OCD patients, 13 youths with an anxiety disorder, and 27 healthy controls found elevated ERN amplitudes in the OCD and anxiety groups. These findings indicate that increased error-related brain activity can serve as a biomarker for pediatric OCD, and as a promising biomarker in further genetic studies of OCD.
*Carrasco, M., Harbin, S. M., Nienhuis, J. K., Fitzgerald, K. D., Gehring, W. J., & Hanna, G. L. (2013). Increased error-related brain activity in youth with obsessive-compulsive disorder and unaffected siblings. Depression and Anxiety, 30(1), 39–46. doi:10.1002/da.22035
*Carrasco, M., Hong, C., Nienhuis, J. K., Harbin, S. M., Fitzgerald, K. D., Gehring, W. J., & Hanna, G. L. (2013). Increased error-related brain activity in youth with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other anxiety disorders. Neuroscience Letters, 541, 214–218. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2013.02.017