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Keywords:

  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy;
  • N-acetylaspartate;
  • obsessive–compulsive disorder;
  • prefrontal cortex

Aims:  Changes in the fronto-striato-thalamo-cortical-circuit loop have been suggested in the pathogenesis of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and have been studied using 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) with interesting findings. However, whether neural metabolites are abnormal in the medial prefrontal cortex in patients with OCD is unknown. The purpose of the present study was to investigate neural metabolites in this brain region in a sample of patients with OCD.

Methods:  Subjects were 21 unmedicated OCD patients, including 10 who were drug-naïve, and 19 healthy controls. Single-voxel 1H MRS was used to study the medial prefrontal cortex for each subject. Levels of N-acetylaspartate (NAA), choline-containing compounds and myoinositol were measured in terms of their ratios with creatine (Cr).

Results:  The NAA/Cr ratio was significantly higher among OCD patients than among healthy controls (F = 4.76, P = 0.037). However, it did not correlate with patients' symptoms or with their illness durations. The NAA/Cr ratio also did not differ between drug-naïve and previously medicated patients. No significant group differences were found between OCD patients and normal controls for the choline-containing compounds/Cr or myoinositol/Cr ratios. In addition, a significant correlation between the NAA/Cr ratio and trait anxiety scores on the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory was found among the controls (r = 0.639, P = 0.010).

Conclusions:  The N-Acetylaspartate level relative to creatine in the medial prefrontal cortex was increased among unmedicated OCD patients. This cannot be attributed to the effect of medications. The possible significance of this finding in the pathophysiology of OCD is discussed.