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Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00058

The Neural Correlates of Probabilistic Classification Learning in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Pilot Study

 Jana Hansmeier1*, Cornelia Exner2, Ulrike Zetsche3 and Andreas Jansen4, 5
  • 1Department of Clinical Psychology, Philipps University of Marburg, Germany
  • 2Department of Clinical Psychology, Leipzig University, Germany
  • 3Department of Clinical Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
  • 4Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg, Germany
  • 5Core-Unit Brainimaging, Philipps University of Marburg, Germany

Individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been found to show deficits in implicitly learning probabilistic associations between events. Neuroimaging studies have associated these implicit learning deficits in OCD with aberrant activation of the striatal system. Recent behavioral studies have highlighted that probabilistic classification learning (PCL) deficits in OCD only occur in a disorder-specific context, while PCL remains intact in a neutral context. The neural correlates of implicit learning in an OCD-specific context, however, have not yet been investigated. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a neutral (prediction of weather) and an OCD-specific variant (prediction of a virus epidemic) of a probabilistic classification learning (PCL) paradigm, we assessed brain activity associated with implicit learning processes in ten participants with OCD and ten matched healthy controls. Regions of interest (ROIs) were the striatum and the medial temporal lobe. ROI analyses revealed significantly higher activity in the bilateral putamen and the left hippocampus of OCD participants as compared to healthy controls during both PCL tasks. These group differences could partly be subsumed under a group x task interaction effect with OCD participants showing significantly higher activity than controls in the left putamen and the left hippocampus in the OCD-specific task variant only. These results suggest a compensation of aberrant striatal activity by an augmented engagement of the explicit memory system particularly in a disorder-relevant context in OCD.

Keywords: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Probabilistic classification learning, implicit learning, Hippocampus, Striatum

Received: 17 Nov 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Jeffrey R. Strawn, University of Cincinnati, United States

Reviewed by:

Frank P. MacMaster, University of Calgary, Canada
Matthew R. Brown, University of Alberta, Canada  

Copyright: © 2018 Hansmeier, Exner, Zetsche and Jansen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Jana Hansmeier, Philipps University of Marburg, Department of Clinical Psychology, Gutenbergstr. 18, Marburg, 35039, Germany,