The 17th Annual Scientific Meeting of the ECNP-OCRN International College of Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders (ICOCS) was held in Lisbon on 1st October 2021. This year for the first time it was a hybrid event, with 17 in-person and 21 remotely attending participants spread across the world. As a brand-new format, it was a great success, conducted according to all preventive measures toward the COVID19 pandemic and allowing the widest possible number of interested people to actively participate.
The main focus of the meeting was on the impact of the COVID19 pandemic and lockdown on patients in particular with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how to manage them in this period of uncertainty. Firstly, Dr Luca Pellegrini (Early Career Scientist, Hertfordshire, UK) gave a talk and presented new data about the role of obsessive-compulsive traits and rigidity in the general public on adaptation to the release of COVID-19 restrictions (post-lockdown adjustment). Professor Michael Van Ameringen (Hamilton, Canada) and Professor Bernardo Dell’Osso (Milan, Italy) reported clinical data from different OCD tertiary clinics in Canada and in Northern Italy respectively. Their presentations were followed by an audience discussion on, but not limited to, how the restriction and then release phases impacted differently on patients’ clinical symptoms as assessed by the major psychometric scales (YBOCS, HAM-A, HAM-D…). After that followed two fascinating lectures on the topic of neuroimmunology. Professor Astrid Morer (Barcelona, Spain), whose background is in this subject, gave a detailed explanation of the neuroimmune hypothesis of OCD, from a historical and contemporary perspective. She described how the field had moved forward since the discovery of pediatric autoimmune disorders associated with infection with streptococcus (PANDAS) to a broader concept of pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndromes (PANS) as infection-induced autoimmune conditions that disrupt a young patient’s normal neurological functioning, resulting in a sudden onset of OCD and/or motor tics, amongst other symptoms, likely based at least in part on brain-based molecular mimicry. Obtaining a correct diagnosis can be challenging and may be aided by serological tests. The contribution of immune therapies is a matter of ongoing research interest. Professor Morer then went on to discuss how this body of knowledge may help us better understand the relationship between OCD and the consequences of viral infections in the context of the COVID era. This led nicely onto the lecture by Professor Stefano Pallanti (Florence, Italy), who presented new insights into the neuroimmune mechanisms in post-COVID NeuroSyndrome in OCD and afterward that of Prof. Eric Hollander (New York, USA), who introduced novel therapeutics targeting IL-6 proinflammatory Cytokines and T-Cells as a promising treatment undergoing active investigation for autism spectrum disorders that may be of value in OCD.
After the presentations, it was possible to look at the submitted posters that covered a wide variety of interesting topics associated with OCD including the role of microbiota and the epigenetic axis, the association between cannabis use and OCD symptoms, and cyberchondria and other forms of problematic use of the internet as relevant comorbidities in OCD. These are just a few examples of a long and exciting list! Among all the valuable contributions, a poster on a meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of r-TMS in SSRI-resistant and non-SSRI-resistant OCD subgroups, conducted at University of Hertfordshire (lead author Dr Luca Pellegrini), was awarded the prestigious Herman Westenberg Prize.
At the end of the day, it was time for the Annual General Meeting and activity planning for the next year, during which it was discussed, among many other issues, how to improve the accessibility of the ICOCS website, how to raise awareness of our organisations to encourage new members to join us, and how to update the ICOCS research database. Finally, Professor Naomi Fineberg (ICOCS Secretary, UK) presented an exciting new networked grant application, for competitive submission to the Horizon Europe funding agency. The project intends to investigate the impact of increased digitalization on society, with a specific focus on problematic internet use.