Can Untreated Strep Throat Lead to OCD?


Findings from a rat study could settle the long-debated issue on whether there is a link between OCD and infections like strep throat.

New research on rats demonstrates that untreated cases of strep throat may trigger the development of psychiatric problems, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit disorder.

For more than two decades, scientists have speculated on a possible link between OCD and childhood infections, but in a new study presented at the 13th Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Societies in Florence, Italy, researchers have scientifically demonstrated that strep can lead to brain dysfunction and OCD.

This breakthrough, said lead researcher Daphna Joel, PhD, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, can have a significant impact on the treatment and prevention of OCD in the future.

"It's almost impossible to show how strep can lead to OCD in humans%u2015almost all of us, even very young children, have been exposed to the bacterium at one time or another," said Joel in a statement. "But childhood seems to provide a distinct window of opportunity for the disorder to take root through strep infection.

Working in collaboration with Madelaine W. Cunningham, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma, the researchers developed a new animal model to show how exposure to strep affects the brain and leads to a number of physical and mental ailments.

Using an animal model, the researchers compared rats that had been exposed to the strep bacteria with a control group, noting a distinct difference in behavior in the strep-exposed animals.

First, the strep-exposed rats developed a strep antibody which deposited in their brain, confirming the suspicions of previous researchers. Those exposed also developed balance and coordination difficulties, as well as compulsive behaviors such as increased and repetitive grooming.

In addition, researchers also found that the strep antibody binds itself to dopamine D1 and D2 receptors in the brain. This finding is in harmony with the fact that one of the main drugs for treating Sydenham's Chorea, a motor disorder associated with strep, targets the same dopamine D2 receptors.

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with Madelaine W. Cunningham, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma, is expected to be published by the beginning of next year.

"We were able to show that these antibodies are binding to receptors in the brain and changing the way certain neurotransmitters operate, leading to brain dysfunction and motor and behavioral symptoms," said Joel.

This discovery, according to researchers, can lead to new modes of diagnosis of the disease and provide a new platform for drug developers seeking to treat or cure OCD, a condition that affects up to 2% of all children and adolescents in the US.

It is vital, said Joel, that parents who notice signs of strep throat to ensure that their children get treated with the appropriate antibiotics in a timely fashion.

For more on this topic:

  • PsychCentral: Can Strep Throat Lead to OCD?
  • CBS news: Strep Throat, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Linked: What Can Parents Do?
  • Fox News: Can Strep Throat Cause Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

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