Suicide is the cause of over 700,000 deaths annually and is the fourth-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 29 years old.
In a study from Duke Health and the Durham VA, scientists found four genes that are linked to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
The findings advance the understanding of how inherited risk factors play a role in the pathology of suicidal thoughts and actions.
In the study, the team conducted a large, diverse, genome-wide analysis using data from 633,778 U.S. military veterans.
Within that group of veterans, 121,211 cases of suicidal thoughts or actions were identified from medical records. Participants were classified as controls if they had no documented lifetime history of self-harm behaviors.
Through a genome-wide analysis of blood samples, the researchers found numerous genes that were evident among participants with documented cases of suicidal thoughts or actions, regardless of their ancestral background.
Four genes had the strongest links, and have been previously associated with psychiatric conditions:
ESR1, an estrogen receptor, has been previously identified as a causal genetic driver gene of PTSD and depression, which are risk factors for suicidal behaviors among veterans.
Estrogen is also suspected as a cause of sex differences in depression rates, and loss of ESR1 has been found to produce effects on brain tissue in men.
DRD2, a dopamine receptor, has been associated with suicide attempts, schizophrenia, mood disorders, ADHD, risky behaviors, and alcohol use disorder.
DCC, which is expressed in brain tissue across the lifespan, has been associated with multiple psychiatric conditions and is elevated in the brains of people who die by suicide.
TRAF3 is associated with antisocial behavior, substance use, and ADHD. Lithium—a gold standard treatment for bipolar disorder shown to reduce suicide risk—modulates the expression of TRAF3 and several other inflammatory genes.
In addition to those genes, the researchers also foundnine additional ancestry-specific risk genes.
The team says while genes account for small amount of risk relative to other factors, scientists need to better understand the biological pathways that underly a person’s risk for engaging in suicidal behavior.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about vegetarianism linked to higher risk of depression, and results showing new antidepressants can lift depression and suicidal thoughts fast.
The study was conducted by Nathan Kimbrel et al and published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
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