More good brain stuff from Duke University. This time it’s neuroscientist Nicole Calakos studying the effects of diminished neuroplasticity capability in the basal ganglia of mice and finding that it might have some bearing on obsessive compulsive disorders.
One of the basic functions of the basal ganglia, as I understand it, is that provides the syntax* for movements: it controls the order and frequency of impulses sent to muscles telling them to move. This allows us to perform such complicated actions as walking (if you don’t think walking is complicated, just think about walking sometime while you’re walking and see what happens). When that order gets messed up, we get messed up.
*It seems likely that this syntax of movement is the basis of, or model for, the syntax of speech—I forget just where I first encountered this idea but I suspect it was in one of Steven Pinker‘s books.
The basal ganglia is also associated with procedural learning—the things we learn through doing them, sports and other physical activities, holding a fork, drinking from a cup, driving a car, and which become second nature—and behavioural habits.
Combine all this and we begin to see how a pathology in this brain region might lead to OCDs. Especially a pathology that manifests in limiting the adaptability of neurons. A movement or a habit begins and there is no easy way to stop or change it.
As an aside, Tony Shalhoub was brilliant as Adrian Monk, a detective suffering from OCD in the tv series “Monk.”