Skip to main content

SciShots: Star-shaped brain cells linked to OCD

Mouse study finds disease-linked molecule influences the intricate, beautiful patterns of the brain cells known as astrocytes.


1 min read

star-shaped brain cells known as astrocytes

A new study has pinpointed a previously unknown role for a certain kind of brain cell in obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, a common psychiatric disorder. A team of researchers were surprised to find a protein implicated in OCD throughout the structural support systems of the star-shaped brain cells known as astrocytes. The team at the University of California, Los Angeles, led by Allen Distinguished Investigator Baljit Khakh, Ph.D., wanted to understand the protein makeup of mouse astrocytes and neurons. The OCD-linked protein, known as SAPAP3, showed up in large amounts in their experiments in both kinds of brain cells. In this pair of images captured by UCLA graduate student Joselyn Soto, a healthy mouse astrocyte (left) is compared to an astrocyte from a mouse missing the SAPAP3 protein (right). The team found that in mice missing SAPAP3, which were already known to exhibit behaviors akin to human OCD, astrocytes are much smaller and less complex than in healthy mice. Adding the SAPAP3 protein back to astrocytes in these mice also improved some of their OCD-like behaviors. Rachel Tompa, Ph.D.  

Microscopic viewpoints, computer-generated models, intricate tracings and more — see a new side of science with SciShots

Science Programs at Allen Institute