Subclinical obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms are frequently observed in children and have been reported to predict a subsequent diagnosis of OC disorder (OCD). The present study aimed to identify the brain volumetric features associated with subclinical OC symptoms and the potential modulatory effects of sex and age in a large sample of healthy children. It is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious mental disorder that affects between 1% and 2% of the population. On the other hand, mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms are much more frequent, and may be present in up to 30% of the population.

These symptoms include, for example, recurrent thoughts about the possibility of catching any disease after being in contact with objects located in public spaces, fear of having inadvertently carried out some potentially dangerous behavior or the need to place the objects of house or the workspace in perfect order and symmetry.

Likewise, these symptoms are frequently accompanied by repetitive and unnecessary cleaning, checking or organization behaviors that, although they are generally perceived as excessive, are difficult to control. Although in most cases these mild symptoms do not interfere with daily life of the subject and do not require special attention, in some cases, for example, after a prolonged stress situation, they can lead to the appearance of a more severe condition than need specialized treatment.

Dr. Carles Soriano-Mas said, “In adults, most of the cases these symptoms will never significantly interfere with normal functioning. "In a small percentage of cases, however, these symptoms may be indicators of an increased risk of developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder that requires treatment, during childhood or in adulthood.”

In the study, 255 boys and girls between 8 and 12 years of age, all healthy, and without any diagnosis of any mental health disorder, were asked to answer a questionnaire about the presence of mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Boys and girls showed a variable presence of this type of symptoms, being the most frequently observed those related to behaviors of checking, ordering and looking for symmetry, or the unnecessary accumulation of objects, as well as the repeated presence of negative and disturbing thoughts.

The children, with the consent of their parents or legal guardians, also underwent a structural magnetic resonance, a totally innocuous technique that allowed researchers to explore in detail the cerebral anatomy. Subclinical OC symptoms are associated with specific brain volumetric features, which could be considered potential neural signatures of increased risk for OCD.