Although obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is sometimes treatable with medication, it typically takes weeks or even months before there's any noticeable difference. If new research being conducted at North Carolina's Duke University is anything to go by, however, a much faster-acting treatment may be on its way.

Led by senior investigator Dr. Nicole Calakos, the Duke scientists utilized an existing mouse model that had been genetically altered to exhibit OCD-like behaviour. More specifically, it was missing the gene that codes for Sapap3, which is a protein that aids in organizing the connections between neurons. The resulting mice display signs of anxiety and exhibit obsessive behaviour, such as grooming themselves excessively.

What Calakos' team discovered was that one type of receptor for neurotransmitters, known as mGluR5, was largely responsible for the unusual behaviour – ordinarily, Sapap3 would limit the activity of the receptor. To that end, when the Sapap3-lacking mice were given a medication that blocks mGluR5, their OCD-like behaviour abated within a matter of minutes. By contrast, conventional antidepressants took weeks to have a similar effect.

The scientists also gave regular lab mice a drug that boosted mGluR5 production, with the result being that the animals began exhibiting the same anxious behaviour as their Sapap3-lacking counterparts.

It is now hoped that mGluR5-blocking medications could eventually be used to quickly and effectively treat OCD in humans. Such drugs have already been the subject of clinical trials for the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson's disease.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.