A study that combined electrical stimulation of the brain with advanced imaging has shown how correcting misfiring neural circuits can lessen the symptoms of a common psychiatric disorder.

A brain-pacemaker helped put out-of-sync brain circuits back on track in patients with extreme forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), reported researchers in yesterday’s Nature Neuroscience. The work could help improve treatment of severe OCD and even lead to other, less invasive new forms of treatment.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a psychiatric condition that causes patients to have obsessive thoughts that are often tied to repetitive compulsive behaviors. Neuropsychiatrists Martijn Figee and Damiaan Denys at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam and their colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to monitor changes in blood flow in the brain, a proxy for neural activity, in both healthy patients and while treating patients with severe cases of OCD disorder with deep-brain stimulation.