Frontal Alpha Asymmetry in OCD Patients and Unaffected First-Degree Relatives

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Frontal electroencephalographic alpha asymmetry as an indicator of trait approach and trait inhibition systems has previously been studied in individuals with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) with mixed results. We explored frontal alpha asymmetry as a possible risk factor in OCD by investigating a large sample of OCD patients (n = 113), healthy control participants (n = 113), and unaffected 1st-degree relatives of OCD patients (n = 37). Additionally, the relationship between OCD symptom dimensions and frontal alpha asymmetry was explored. OCD patients and healthy control participants did not differ in alpha asymmetry scores. Hence, the current results do not support the notion that OCD as a diagnostic entity is associated with a shift in frontal cortical activity. Furthermore, alpha asymmetry scores were not statistically related to specific OCD symptom dimensions. Reasons for inconsistent results in OCD are discussed and should be explored in future studies. Compared to OCD patients and healthy control participants, unaffected 1st-degree relatives of OCD patients showed increased left frontal activity. Such asymmetry has previously been found to be associated with positive affect and adaptive emotion regulation under stress. Because stressful life events play an important role in the onset and exacerbation of OCD, increased left frontal activity might serve as a resilience factor in unaffected 1st-degree relatives. Future studies should follow up on these results with longitudinal risk studies and pre- and posttherapy assessments to further explore causality of this putative factor.

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