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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder with significant morbidity whose pathophysiology is not fully understood. Neuroimaging studies have characterized OCD in terms of elevated striatal and prefrontal reactivity to emotion provocation. This neural model may be informed by investigation of functional connectivity in OCD, identifying alterations in how sensory information is integrated into frontostriatal regions.
The current study employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare neural activity and connectivity in 31 OCD patients (12 washing and 19 checking subtypes) and 17 healthy volunteers in an emotion provocation paradigm using visual stimuli.
OCD status was associated with hyper-activation of the posterior cingulate (PCg) in response to emotion provocation. Additionally, OCD patients demonstrated elevated PCg functional connectivity with the visual cortices and frontostriatal regions. Exploratory analyses suggested that stimulus-provoked activity and connectivity was elevated for checking subtypes in motor cortices, and elevated in washing subtypes in the anterior insula and orbitofrontal cortex.
The PCg's role in moderating connectivity between the visual cortex and frontolimbic regions is muted in OCD, consistent with the PCg's suggested role in regulating attention towards emotional stimuli. Exploratory analyses suggest distinct PCg connectivity profiles in OCD subtypes, with checking linked to motor activation, but washing linked to a network supporting emotional salience. The study was not powered to fully investigate the effects of medication, patients often endorsed secondary symptom subtypes that muddied washing/checking distinctions, and the emotion provocation paradigm was of limited intensity compared to life stressors.
Although cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a well-established treatment for adult depression, its efficacy and efficiency may be enhanced by better understanding its mechanism(s) of action. According to the theoretical model of CBT, symptom improvement occurs via reductions in maladaptive cognition. However, previous research has not established clear evidence for this cognitive mediation model.
The present study investigated the cognitive mediation model of CBT in the context of a randomized controlled trial of CBT v. antidepressant medication (ADM) for adult depression. Participants with major depressive disorder were randomized to receive 16 weeks of CBT (n = 54) or ADM (n = 50). Depression symptoms and three candidate cognitive mediators (dysfunctional attitudes, cognitive distortions and negative automatic thoughts) were assessed at week 0 (pre-treatment), week 4, week 8 and week 16 (post-treatment). Longitudinal associations between cognition and depression symptoms, and mediation of treatment outcome, were evaluated in structural equation models.
Both CBT and ADM produced significant reductions in maladaptive cognition and depression symptoms. Cognitive content and depression symptoms were moderately correlated within measurement waves, but cross-lagged associations between the variables and indirect (i.e. mediated) treatment effects were non-significant.
The results provide support for concurrent relationships between cognitive and symptom change, but not the longitudinal relationships hypothesized by the cognitive mediation model. Results may be indicative of an incongruence between the timing of measurement and the dynamics of cognitive and symptom change.
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