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Israeli researchers found a link between the bacterium that causes strep in childhood and OCD

The groundbreaking results of the current research, performed by 2 scientists from the School of Psychology at the Tel Aviv University, may lead to new medical methods of diagnosing the disease and the development of new medications for the obsessive compulsive disorder.

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Prof Dafna Yoel 1

Prof Daphna Joel / In TED X


For over twenty years, the scientific community has been examining the hypothesis that obsessive-compulsive disorder may be associated with infectious diseases such children throat infections. The  current research has demonstrated for the first time, that the antibodies to the bacterium Streptococcus were settled in the brain of rats and caused behavioral disorders. Professor Daphna Joel and her team of researchers at the School of Psychology at the University of Tel – Aviv, presented the first scientific evidence of the possible link between the common childhood exposure to the bacterium that causes strep infections  and brain function and neuropsychiatric disorders. According to prof. Joel, this groundbreaking research may lead to the development of new drugs for OCD.


Intensive thinking and compulsive activity

According to the American Academy of Psychiatry of Child and Adolescent, up to 2% of children and adolescents in the U.S. suffer from OCD. This disorder is characterized by repetitive intensive thoughts and compulsive activity that might cause discomfort, anxiety and stress, and damage the daily function.

The research was conducted by psychology Ph.D student Lior Brimberg, in collaboration with Prof. Madeleine Cunningham of the University of Oklahoma, a specialist in immunology and autoimmune diseases related to infection Streptococcus A. The study results were recently published in the  ‘Neuroppsychoparamacology’ journal.


Prof. Joel suggests that it is almost impossible to explain the connection between throat infections, that we all have been exposed to in the past, and the obsessive compulsive disorder”. However, the joint work with Prof. Cunningham, considered one of the leading experts in the field of heart disease associated with exposure to strep screening, has created a new model demonstrating how animal’s exposure to the bacteria affects the brain and causing a variety of motoric and behavioral disorders.


Antibodies to the bacteria settle in the brain

In their Tel Aviv University lab, Prof. Joel and Lior Bromberg have managed to create a model of the disease. Using a group of rats that have been exposed to strep bacterias and comparing it to a control group of rats that have not been exposed to that bacteria enabled to measure and detect behavioral changes among the exposed animals. However, it should be noted that the rats were not sick, but created Antibodies against the bacteria that caused the behavioral disorders.


The study revealed, that the antibodies were settled in the brain, in a process that verified past hypotheses that were raised by former researchers. The exposed rats developed coordination and balance difficulties, as well as compulsive behavior like obsessive cleaning.


Another significant finding, was that strep antibodies bind to dopamine receptors D1-type and D2, located in the brain. This finding is consistent with the fact that one of the main drugs to Sydenham’s Chorea, a motoric disorder related to strep  focuses on a D2 dopamine receptors. Indeed, the model shows that rats exposed to bacteria therapy drugs that block D2 receptors were suffering from lighter motoric disorder.


Prof. Joel points out, that the research indicates the importance of proper medical care to every throat infection, in order to ensure rational and adequate antibiotics use in any case of infection strep A.






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