Executive Dysfunctions in Obsessive-Compulsive Patients and Unaffected Relatives: Searching for a New Intermediate Phenotype

Paolo Cavedini, Claudia Zorzi, Monica Piccinni, Maria Cristina Cavallini, Laura Bellodi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Evidence in literature suggests that neurocognitive deficits may represent suitable intermediate-phenotype candidates for the dissection of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) genetic heterogeneity. The aim of this study was to search for possible OCD neurocognitive endophenotypes by assessing decision-making, planning, and mental flexibility profiles in OCD probands, healthy control subjects (HC), and their respective relatives. Methods: The sample consisted of 35 pairs of OCD probands without other Axis I comorbidities and unaffected first-degree relatives and 31 pairs of HC subjects without a known family history of OCD and their relatives. Neuropsychological assessment was performed using the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), the Tower of Hanoi (ToH), and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). Results: Obsessive-compulsive disorder patients showed impairments in decision making, planning, and mental flexibility, given that OCD probands performed significantly poorer than HC probands at the IGT, the ToH, and the WCST. Obsessive-compulsive disorder relatives performed poorer at these tests than HC probands and relatives. Symptom severity was found to have no influence on neurocognitive performance. Analysis of proband/relative concordance in task performance was performed for each task. A significant overall difference was found when comparing the percentages of the different concordance profiles of our OCD and HC samples with regard to IGT and ToH performance. No significant difference was found in the WCST. Conclusions: Executive dysfunctions may qualify as a suitable endophenotype candidate for OCD. Concordance rates in neuropsychological task performance suggest that decision-making and planning deficits aggregate in these families and therefore might be a heritable component of OCD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1178-1184
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 15 2010


  • Executive functions
  • family study
  • intermediate phenotype
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Medicine(all)


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