Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions (intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive ritualistic behaviours) leading to functional impairment. Accumulating evidence links these conditions with underlying dysregulation of fronto-striatal circuitry and monoamine systems. These abnormalities represent key targets for existing and novel treatment interventions. However, the brain bases of these conditions and treatment mechanisms are still not fully elucidated. Animal models simulating the behavioural and clinical manifestations of the disorder show great potential for augmenting our understanding of the pathophysiology and treatment of OCD. This paper provides an overview of what is known about OCD from several perspectives. We begin by describing the clinical features of OCD and the criteria used to assess the validity of animal models of symptomatology; namely, face validity (phenomenological similarity between inducing conditions and specific symptoms of the human phenomenon), predictive validity (similarity in response to treatment) and construct validity (similarity in underlying physiological or psychological mechanisms). We then survey animal models of OC spectrum conditions within this framework, focusing on (i) ethological models; (ii) genetic and pharmacological models; and (iii) neurobehavioural models. We also discuss their advantages and shortcomings in relation to their capacity to identify potentially efficacious new compounds. It is of interest that there has been rather little evidence of 'false alarms' for therapeutic drug effects in OCD models which actually fail in the clinic. While it is more difficult to model obsessive cognition than compulsive behaviour in experimental animals, it is feasible to infer cognitive inflexibility in certain animal paradigms. Finally, key future neurobiological and treatment research areas are highlighted.
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