BackgroundEpigenetic markers such as DNA methylation of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene have previously been shown to be altered in anxiety- and stress-related disorders and to constitute a potential mechanism of action of psychotherapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy in these disorders. The present study for the first time, to our knowledge, investigated MAOA methylation in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder applying a longitudinal psychotherapy-epigenetic approach.MethodsThe present sample comprised 14 unmedicated female patients with primary obsessive-compulsive disorder and 14 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. MAOA promoter methylation was analyzed via direct sequencing of sodium bisulfite-treated DNA extracted from whole blood before and after an 8- to 10-week semi-standardized, obsessive-compulsive disorder–specific cognitive behavioral therapy. Clinical response was assessed by means of the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale.ResultsSignificantly lower MAOA promoter methylation was discerned in obsessive-compulsive disorder patients relative to healthy controls. Data were available for 12 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and 14 controls. Furthermore, following cognitive behavioral therapy, clinical improvement, i.e., decreases in obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms as indicated by lower scores on the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale was found to be significantly correlated with increases in MAOA methylation levels in patients (data available for n = 7).ConclusionsThe present pilot data suggest MAOA hypomethylation as a potential risk marker of obsessive-compulsive disorder and an increase in MAOA methylation levels as a possible mechanistic correlate of response to cognitive behavioral therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder.