Suicide Gene Identified

Researchers identify a gene that is more likely to be carried by people who are suicidal than depressed individuals who are not.

Nov 16, 2011
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, RAGESOSS

The fact that suicide can run in families, as well as more direct studies of heritability involving twins or adopted individuals, has suggested a genetic component to suicidal behavior, but what genes are involved has remained unclear. Now, researchers have identified a gene variant that is more common in those who have attempted suicide than in those who have not. The findings provide a potential DNA marker for suicide risk that could help doctors recognize which patients need supervision.

“If we knew who had an enhanced risk of suicide, we could change our approach to their care,” said John Mann, chief neuroscientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, told The Guardian. “We could warn the family and ask them to be extra vigilant, we could send reminders to people to repeat their prescription, and tell the patient the importance of sticking with their treatment.”

Mann and his colleagues tested the DNA of more than 400 individuals with major depression, about a third of whom had attempted suicide at some point in their past, and identified a variant of a gene called RGS2, which affects the activity of certain neurotransmitter receptors, that was linked to the suicidal behavior. Specifically, 43 percent of the suicidal patients had two copies of the “suicidal” variant, while fewer than 20 percent had two copies of a "safer" variant. The researchers announced their findings earlier this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC.

"It will be a panel of genes that will contribute to this, and if we can identify those genes, that panel could be used as a screening tool to predict the risk of suicidal behaviour in depressed patients," Mann told The Guardian.