Researchers from Cambridge University say that brain scans may be able to detect which people are at genetic risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD is a psychiatric anxiety disorder in which the person is compelled by irrational fears and thoughts to repeat seemingly needless actions over and over again.
As a part of the study, the researchers scanned the brains of nearly 100 people using magnetic resonance imaging. The group included people who suffered from OCD and also some who were close relatives of individuals with the disorder.
With an aim to objectively measure ability to stop repetitive behaviours, the volunteers were then asked to complete a computerised test that involved pressing a left or right button as quickly as possible when arrows appeared.
When a beep noise sounded, volunteers had to attempt to stop their responses. The researchers noted that people with OCD, as well as their close relatives did worse on the test than the control group.
Researcher Lara Menzies said that this may be a genetic risk factor. "These brain changes appear to run in families and may represent a genetic risk factor," the BBC quoted her, as saying.
"Impaired brain function in the areas of the brain associated with stopping motor responses may contribute to the compulsive and repetitive behaviours that are characteristic of OCD. "These brain changes appear to run in families and may represent a genetic risk factor for developing the condition.
"The current diagnosis of OCD available to psychiatrists is subjective and therefore knowledge of the underlying causes may lead to better diagnosis and ultimately improved clinical treatments."
However, she warns that there is a long way to go before the genes are identified. "We also need to identify other contributing factors for OCD, to understand why close relatives that share similar brain structures don't always develop the disorder," she said.