Neural basis of associative learning in Trichotillomania and skin-picking disorder
Dougherty, D. D., Peters, A. T., Grant, J. E., Peris, T. S., Ricketts, E. J., Migó, M., Chou, T., O'Neill, J., Stein, D. J., Lochner, C., Keuthen, N., Piacentini, J., & Deckersbach, T. (2022). Neural basis of associative learning in Trichotillomania and skin-picking disorder. Behavioural brain research, 425, 113801. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2022.113801
This research was funded by the TLC Foundation for BFRBs. The study is not free to view at the original publication.
Disorders such as Trichotillomania (TTM) and skin-picking disorder (SPD) are associated with reduced flexibility and increased internally focused attention. While the basal ganglia have been hypothesized to play a key role, the mechanisms underlying learning and flexible accommodation of new information is unclear. Using a Bayesian Learning Model, we evaluated the neural basis of learning and accommodation in individuals with TTM and/or SPD. Participants were 127 individuals with TTM and/or SPD (TTM/SPD) recruited from three sites (age 18-57, 84% female) and 26 healthy controls (HC). During fMRI, participants completed a shape-button associative learning and reversal fMRI task. Above-threshold clusters were identified where the Initial Learning-Reversals BOLD activation contrast differed significantly (p < .05 FDR-corrected) between the two groups. A priori, effects were anticipated in predefined ROIs in bilateral basal ganglia, with exploratory analyses in the hippocampus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). Relative to HC, individuals with TTM/SPD demonstrated reduced activation during initial learning compared to reversal learning in the right basal ganglia. Similarly, individuals with TTM/SPD demonstrated reduced activation during initial learning compared to reversal learning in several clusters in the dlPFC and dACC compared to HC. Individuals with TTM/SPD may form or reform visual stimulus-motor response associations through different brain mechanisms than healthy controls. The former exhibit altered activation within the basal ganglia, dlPFC, and dACC during an associative learning task compared to controls, reflecting reduced frontal-subcortical activation during initial learning. Future work should determine whether these neural deficits may be restored with targeted treatment.