Oscillatory brain activity in the alpha band (8–13 Hz) is modulated by cognitive events. Such modulation is reflected in a decrease of alpha (event-related desynchronization; ERD) with high cognitive load, or an increase (event-related synchronization) with low cognitive demand or with active inhibition of distractors. We used magnetoencephalography to investigate the pattern of prefrontal and parieto-occipital alpha modulation related to two variants of visual working memory task (delayed matching-to-sample) with and without a distractor. We tested nonmedicated, nondepressed patients suffering obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and pair-matched healthy controls. The level of event-related alpha as a function of time was estimated using the temporal-spectral evolution technique. The results in OCD patients indicated: (1) a lower level of prestimulus (reference) alpha when compared to controls, (2) a task-phase specific reduction in event-related alpha ERD in particular for delayed matching-to-sample task with distractor, (3) no significant correlations between the pattern of modulation in prefrontal and parietal-occipital alpha oscillatory activity. Despite showing an abnormally low alpha modulation, the OCD patients' performance accuracy was normal. The results suggest a relationship of alpha oscillations and the underlying thalamocortical network to etiology of OCD and an involvement of a compensatory mechanism related to effortful inhibition of extrinsic and intrinsic interference. Hum Brain Mapp 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.