Wayne State University

Wayne State University to lead first ever combined imaging and genetics study in childhood OCD

Unique collaboration between WSU, the University of Michigan and Hospital for Sick Children/University of Toronto will examine role of glutamate more closely

Dr. David RosenbergDETROIT—Wayne State University officials announced today an expansion of a research grant of nearly $2.7 million, bringing the total award to over $6.1 million. This project, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health, is the first combined imaging and genetics research study on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The project, “Brain Chemistry and Genetics in Pediatric OCD,” led by WSU, with collaborative partners at the University of Michigan and the University of Toronto/The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), is focused on OCD, a severe, prevalent and chronically disabling disease. OCD affects approximately 1 to 3 percent of the population nationwide and about 50 percent of all OCD cases begin in childhood and adolescence.

“Initial findings at Wayne State University have shown that glutamate plays a key role in OCD,” said David Rosenberg, M.D., the Miriam L. Hamburger Endowed Chair of Child Psychiatry and professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University and the principal investigator of the project. “Glutamate is the brain’s light switch which helps turn serotonin and other chemicals off and on. Our research has shown that glutamate abnormalities in OCD have significant treatment implications. This new study will further our research by combining imaging and genetics, something never assessed in OCD patients.”

Teaming up with Rosenberg is Gregory Hanna, M.D, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Pediatric Anxiety and Tic Disorder Program at the University of Michigan. Hanna will lead recruiting efforts for patients and their clinical characterization. In addition, Paul Arnold, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and SickKids, will lead the genetic studies. Wayne State University will lead the imaging studies at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

By performing critical imaging and genetic tests of glutamate genes in 200 OCD and 200 healthy control patients, this group of scientists aims to examine glutamate changes in brain regions implicated in OCD, and to combine this information with a detailed exploration of variants within genes influencing glutamate transmission.

“Brain processes visualized using magnetic resonance imaging are thought to be closer to the action of genes compared with complex behavioral phenomena like obsessive-compulsive disorder,” said Arnold. “Therefore, we hope that combining the two powerful techniques of neuroimaging and genetics will help speed up the discovery of risk genes.”

Results will have significant scientific implications as well as key ‘translational’ importance in bringing research from the bench to the bedside with clinical ramifications. By combining unique clinical assessment, magnetic resonance imaging and genetics expertise, the team of researchers will investigate biological, genetic and behavioral variables that may one day lead to a better understanding of pediatric OCD, and in turn, the development of new diagnostic and treatment approaches.

“This imaging genetics project builds upon a series of genetic linkage and association studies conducted during the past 15 years,” said Hanna. “These studies indicate genetic variants affecting the glutamate system have a primary role in the development of OCD.”

“Dr. Rosenberg is a leading international expert in pediatric OCD,” said Gloria Heppner, associate vice president for research at WSU. “His expertise in the field draws patients from all over the country and world. With his discoveries to date on glutamate and with this collaborative project focusing on combining genetics and imaging, this team of leading scientists may open new doors for patients whose brains never receive an “all-clear” signal.”

                                                                                                                     # # #

For more information, contact Julie O'Connor at julie.oconnor@wayne.edu, or 313-577-8845.

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting, ranking in the top 50 in R & D expenditures of all public universities by the National Science Foundation. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit www.research.wayne.edu.