Emotion regulation in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, unaffected siblings, and unrelated healthy control participants

Anders L. Thorsen, Stella J. de Wit, Froukje E. de Vries, Danielle C. Cath, Dick J. Veltman, Ysbrand D. van der Werf, David Mataix-Cols, Bjarne Hansen, Gerd Kvale, Odile A. van den Heuvel

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Background: Functional neuroimaging endophenotypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been suggested during executive tasks. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether behavioral and neural responses during emotion processing and regulation also represent an endophenotype of OCD. Methods: Forty-three unmedicated adult OCD patients, 19 of their unaffected siblings, and 38 healthy control participants underwent 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging during an emotion regulation task including neutral, fear-inducing, and OCD-related visual stimuli. Stimuli were processed during natural appraisal and during cognitive reappraisal, and distress ratings were collected after each picture. We performed between-group comparisons on task behavior and brain activation in regions of interest during emotion provocation and regulation. Results: Siblings reported similar distress as healthy control participants during provocation, and significantly less than patients. There was no significant three-group difference in activation during fear provocation or regulation. Three-group comparisons showed that patients had higher amygdala and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex activation during OCD-related emotion provocation and regulation, respectively, while siblings were intermediate between patients and control participants but not significantly different from either. Siblings showed higher left temporo-occipital activation (compared with both healthy control participants and patients) and higher frontolimbic connectivity (compared with patients) during OCD-related regulation. Conclusions: Unaffected siblings do not show the same distress and amygdala activation during emotional provocation as OCD patients. Siblings show distinct activation in a temporo-occipital region, possibly related to compensatory cognitive control. This suggests that emotion regulation is not a strong endophenotype for OCD. When replicated, this contributes to our understanding of familial risk and resilience for OCD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352-360
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number4
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Emotion regulation
  • Emotional provocation
  • Endophenotype
  • Familial risk
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • fMRI

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