Vol. 12 No. 6 - January, 2010

Canine compulsive disorder gene identified

Gene shares family with recently targeted gene for autism in humans

Edward Ginns, MD, PhD, and colleagues have identified a genetic locus in dogs that could help scientists understand what causes OCD in humans.

A collaboration among the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has identified a genetic locus in dogs that could help scientists understand what causes obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in humans. The findings, published in the January 2010 edition of Nature Molecular Psychiatry, suggest that particular genetic proteins may influence central nervous system development and increase the risk of OCD.

 Characterized by time-consuming, repetitive behaviors, OCD affects roughly 2 percent of humans. The equally distressing canine equivalent, canine compulsive disorder (CCD), is more prevalent in certain dog breeds, especially Dobermans and Bull Terriers.

For more than a decade, animal behaviorists Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, professor of clinical sciences, and Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, clinical assistant professor, at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, collected blood samples from carefully characterized Doberman patients exhibiting compulsive behaviors, as well as from healthy, unaffected Dobermans. In 2001, Edward I. Ginns, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and neurology and pathology and director of the Program in Medical Genetics at UMMS, joined the effort, enabling genetic studies that culminated in the genome-wide association study that began in 2007 using the canine genotyping array at the Broad Institute.

“We are hopeful that these finding will lead to a better understanding of the biology of compulsive disorder and facilitate development of genetic tests, enabling earlier interventions and even treatment or prevention of compulsive disorders in at-risk canines and humans.”

Collaborations are already in progress with Dennis Murphy, MD, senior investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health, to determine the extent to which the genetic associations confer risk for human OCD and autism spectrum disorders.