In a new study, researchers found a new lineage of brain cells called Hoxb8-lineage microglia and established a link between the brain cells and OCD and anxiety.
The research was conducted by University of Utah scientists.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 3 people experiences debilitating anxiety—the kind that prevents someone from going about their normal life.
Women are also more at risk to suffer from anxiety.
Yet the roots of anxiety and other anxiety-related diseases, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), are still unclear.
In the study, the team examined mice with disabled Hoxb8-lineage microglia, which showed excessive overgrooming behavior.
The symptom resembles behavior in humans with a type of OCD called trichotillomania, a disorder that causes people to obsessively pluck out their own hair.
The team proved that Hoxb8-lineage microglia prevent mice from displaying OCD behaviors.
Additionally, they found that female sex hormones caused more severe OCD behaviors and induced added anxiety in the mice.
According to the team, microglia are crucial during brain development in the womb—they ensure that brain structures and neural circuitry all wire together correctly.
The team showed that microglia belong to at least two distinct sub-lineages of cells.
One lineage called Hoxb8-lineage microglia makes up about 30% of all microglia in the brain but until now, no one knew whether they had any unique function.
Researchers have long suspected that microglia have a role in anxiety and neuropsychological disorders in humans because this cell type can release substances that may harm neurons.
This is the first study to describe microglia’s role in OCD and anxiety behaviors in mice.
The team says the findings could spark new microglia-focused studies in patients with anxiety and, eventually, help to better treat this debilitating disorder.
The lead author of the study is Dimitri Traenkner, a research assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.
The study is published in Cell Reports.
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