A new study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health has found evidence that a specific gene is linked to suicidal behavior, adding to our knowledge of the many complex causes of suicide. This research could one day help doctors target the gene in their prevention efforts.
In the past, studies have implicated the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene in suicidal behavior. BDNF is involved in the development of the nervous system.
After pooling the results of 11 previous studies and adding their own study data involving people with schizophrenia, CAMH scientists confirmed that among people with a psychiatric diagnosis, those with the methionine (“met”) variation of the gene had a higher risk of suicidal behavior compared to those with the valine variation.
The review, published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacologyincluded data from 3,352 people, 1,202 of whom had a history of suicidal behavior.
“Our findings could lead to the testing and development of treatments that target this gene to help prevent suicide,” said Dr. James Kennedy, director of CAMH’s Department of Neuroscience Research. “In the future, if other researchers can replicate and extend our findings, then genetic testing may be possible to help identify those at increased risk for suicide.”
Since variation in BDNF puts low functioning is a risk factor for suicidal behavior, it may also be possible to develop a compound to increase BDNF functioning, says Dr. Kennedy.
About 90% of people who die by suicide have at least one mental health disorder, the researchers note. In the studies they reviewed, participants suffered from schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or general mood disorders. In each case, the researchers compared the genotypes of people who had attempted or succeeded in committing suicide with those who were not suicidal.
“Our findings provide a small piece of the puzzle about the causes of suicidal behavior,” says Dr. Kennedy.
“When assessing a person’s suicide risk, it is also important to consider environmental risk factors, such as early childhood or recent trauma, use of addictive drugs or medications, and ‘other factors.’
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