BACKGROUND: Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective treatment for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that do not respond to conventional therapies. Although the precise mechanism of action of DBS remains unknown, modulation of activity in corticofugal fibers originating in the prefrontal cortex is thought to underlie its beneficial effects in OCD.
METHODS: To gain more mechanistic insight into DBS in OCD, we used Sapap3 mutant mice. These mice display excessive self-grooming and increased anxiety, both of which are responsive to therapeutic drugs used in OCD patients. We selected two clinically relevant DBS targets through which activity in prefronto-corticofugal fibers may be modulated: the internal capsule (IC) and the dorsal part of the ventral striatum (dVS).
RESULTS: IC-DBS robustly decreased excessive grooming, whereas dVS-DBS was on average less effective. Grooming was reduced rapidly after IC-DBS onset and reinstated upon DBS offset. Only IC-DBS was associated with increased locomotion. DBS in both targets induced c-Fos expression around the electrode tip and in different regions of the prefrontal cortex. This prefronto-cortical activation was more extensive after IC-DBS, but not associated with behavioral effects. Furthermore, we found that the decline in grooming cannot be attributed to altered locomotor activity and that anxiety, measured on the elevated plus maze, was not affected by DBS.
CONCLUSIONS: DBS in both the IC and dVS reduces compulsive grooming in Sapap3 mutant mice. However, IC stimulation was more effective, but also produced motor activation, even though both DBS targets modulated activity in a similar set of prefrontal cortical fibers.