Emotional Processing in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of 25 Functional Neuroimaging Studies

Anders Lillevik Thorsen, Pernille Hagland, Joaquim Radua, David Mataix-Cols, Gerd Kvale, Bjarne Hansen, Odile A. van den Heuvel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience aversive emotions in response to obsessions, motivating avoidance and compulsive behaviors. However, there is considerable ambiguity regarding the brain circuitry involved in emotional processing in OCD, especially whether activation is altered in the amygdala. Methods: We conducted a systematic literature review and performed a meta-analysis—seed-based d mapping—of 25 whole-brain neuroimaging studies (including 571 patients and 564 healthy control subjects) using functional magnetic resonance imaging or positron emission tomography, comparing brain activation of patients with OCD and healthy control subjects during presentation of emotionally valenced versus neutral stimuli. Meta-regressions were employed to investigate possible moderators. Results: Patients with OCD, compared with healthy control subjects, showed increased activation in the bilateral amygdala, right putamen, orbitofrontal cortex extending into the anterior cingulate and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and middle temporal and left inferior occipital cortices during emotional processing. Right amygdala hyperactivation was most pronounced in unmedicated patients. Symptom severity was related to increased activation in the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortices and precuneus. Greater comorbidity with mood and anxiety disorders was associated with higher activation in the right amygdala, putamen, and insula as well as with lower activation in the left amygdala and right ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Conclusions: Patients with OCD show increased emotional processing-related activation in limbic, frontal, and temporal regions. Previous mixed evidence regarding the role of the amygdala in OCD has likely been influenced by patient characteristics (such as medication status) and low statistical power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-571
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Cite this