Scientists Identify Genetic Changes that may Increase the Risk of Death by Suicide

Genetic Changes

About four genetic changes can increase the risk of suicidal tendencies in humans, according to researchers at the University of Utah Health who identified the main genetic factors occurring in people who died of suicide.

In the United States, suicide is 10th leading cause of death, reported over 40,000 individuals, same as the number of deaths led by opioid epidemic. Previous studies have demonstrated that suicide tracks in families without relying on the effects of shared environment.

In the new study, the researchers used unique resources to find out the underlying genetic factors, leading to suicidal tendencies. Findings of the study were published in the November issue of Molecular Psychiatry. Through an approach to discover the genes that increase the risk of suicide, the research team successfully identified genetic changes in four genes – SP110, AGBL2, SUCLA2 and APH1B.

Focusing on the study of suicidal history in 43 high-risk families provides a more genetically equivalent group amplifying the risks of suicide based on genes while minimizing probable risks such as stress, unemployment, and accessibility to lethal means. The genealogical information of the families traces back nine generations.

The research team scanned the genetic variation in over 1,300 DNA samples of people who died of suicide in Utah. Further, they correlated the DNA results to the database of population in the state, containing genealogical information as well as the latest medical records from nearly 8 million individuals along with death certificates tracing back to 1904.

Through the new study, the team detected particular changes in four genes. In addition, they identified about 207 genes that may play an important role in increasing the risks of suicide. Of these, eighteen genes have been previously linked to suicide risk, fifteen of previously identified genes showed connection between inflammatory conditions and mental health.

As most of the suicide cases were from a particular region, the new study had various limitations. Further, not all the people with a DNA sample had medical record to clarify a mental health diagnosis. First author Hilary Coon said that suicide is a complex human condition, there may be wide range of genetic changes, making one vulnerable to the suicide risk, but other factors may also alter that risk.

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Rahul Pandita

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