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U of U researchers believe their findings could make major strides in treating OCD and anxiety

(Photo: Robert Bukaty, Associated Press, file, 2006)

SALT LAKE CITY – Researchers at the University of Utah say they may have made a major breakthrough in treating mental health problems like OCD and anxiety.  They believe they’ve found a group of specialized brain cells that manage how these disorders exhibit themselves

The cells are called the Hoxb8-lineage microglia and it accounts for almost a third of all microglia cells in the brain.  Researchers knew what the cells were, but they didn’t know what they did.  So, they set to find out.

“We generated mice that don’t have these cells any more.  What happened is that these mice started to show severe signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety,” according to Biology Professor Dimitri Traenkner.

What was so surprising is that doctors had removed these cells in mice in the past, hoping to spot changes in physical development, but the mice seemed fine.  However, with Traenkner’s experiment, they looked at mice behavior.

“These affected mice basically doubled the time they spent grooming,” Traenkner says, adding they spent more time grooming themselves than what would be considered healthy.

From that, they determined these cells protected people from conditions like OCD and anxiety.

“With this in hand, we could conclude that these cells must do something special in the brain, under normal conditions, to prevent this from happening,” he says.

That’s not the only thing they discovered.  Traenkner says the found female sex hormones made the symptoms of these disorders much worse.  They manipulated those hormone levels and found the symptoms decreased, significantly, with that treatment.  He says they found similar patterns in how these disorders manifest in humans, also.

“Females are way more affected by anxiety and anxiety-related disorders than men,” Traenkner says.

He believes this could open a lot of doors on how hormone therapy could be used to treat these problems in people.  They say one out of every three people in this country experience serious anxiety.