Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 182–194 | Cite as

Symptom Dimensions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as Predictors of Neurobiology and Treatment Response

  • Anders Lillevik Thorsen
  • Gerd Kvale
  • Bjarne Hansen
  • Odile A. van den Heuvel
Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive, and Related Disorders (CB Nemeroff, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders


Purpose of review

Specific symptom dimensions of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been suggested as an approach to reduce the heterogeneity of obsessive-compulsive disorder, predict treatment outcome, and relate to brain structure and function. Here, we review studies addressing these issues.

Recent findings

The contamination and symmetry/ordering dimensions have not been reliably associated with treatment outcome. Some studies found that greater severity of sexual/aggressive/religious symptoms predicted a worse outcome after cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a better outcome after serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). Contamination symptoms have been related to increased amygdala and insula activation in a few studies, while sexual/aggressive/religious symptoms have also been related to more pronounced alterations in the function and structure of the amygdala. Increased pre-treatment limbic responsiveness has been related to better outcomes of CBT, but most imaging studies show that important limitations and replication in large-scale studies is needed. We review possible reasons for the strong limbic involvement of the amygdala in patients with more sexual/aggressive/religious symptoms, in relation to their sensitivity to CBT.


Symptom dimensions may predict treatment outcome, and patients with sexual/religious/aggressive symptoms are at a greater risk of not starting or delaying treatment. This is likely partly due to more shame and perceived immorality which is also related to stronger amygdala response. Competently delivered CBT is likely to help these patients improve to the same degree as patients with other symptoms.


Symptom dimension Treatment outcome Brain function Brain structure 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Anders Lillevik Thorsen declares that he has no conflict of interest. Gerd Kvale declares that she has no conflict of interest. Bjarne Hansen declares that he has no conflict of interest. Odile A. van den Heuvel declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights and informed consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anders Lillevik Thorsen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Gerd Kvale
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bjarne Hansen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Odile A. van den Heuvel
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.OCD-teamHaukeland University HospitalBergenNorway
  2. 2.Department of Clinical PsychologyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  3. 3.Department of Anatomy & NeurosciencesVU University Medical Center (VUmc)AmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryVUmcAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Neuroscience AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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