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Brain Scans Differ in People With History of Suicide Attempt

October 23, 2019

People with a mood disorder and a history of suicide attempt appear to have distinct patterns of brain circuit connectivity compared with other individuals—including people with mood disorders and a history of suicidal thoughts without suicide attempt.

Researchers published their findings online in the journal Psychological Medicine. “This is one of the first studies to try to understand brain mechanisms that may be relevant to suicide risk,” said first author Jonathan P. Stange, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study involved resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 212 young adults: 18 with a mood disorder and history of suicide attempt, 60 with a mood disorder and a history of suicidal thoughts without suicide attempt, 52 with a mood disorder and no history of suicidal thoughts or attempt, and 82 healthy participants.

Assessing Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors in Patients

Compared with other participants, those with a history of suicide attempt showed less connectivity within the cognitive control network as well as between the cognitive control and default mode networks, the study found. The neural circuitry implicated in the findings is linked with cognitive control and impulsivity.

“If we could figure out how to improve connectivity within this brain circuit,” said Dr. Stange, “we might be able to reduce suicide risk in the future.”

Researchers emphasized several limitations: the study included only 18 people with mood disorders and a history of suicide attempt; participants with mood disorders were in remission, and therefore images may not represent connectivity during a suicidal episode; and the design of the study was retrospective rather than longitudinal.

Studies with new samples that replicate findings, as well as offer a longitudinal design, would provide a better picture of suicide risk factors that signal a need for intervention, they noted.

“Ultimately, that’s what we really care about,” said Dr. Stange. “It’s not just figuring out what happened in the past, but what can we do with this information to try to prevent suicide from happening.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Stange JP, Jenkins LM, Pocius S, et al. Using resting-state intrinsic network connectivity to identify suicide risk in mood disorders. Psychological Medicine. 2019 October 10;[Epub ahead of print].

Brain scans may provide clues to suicide risk [press release]. Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois at Chicago; October 10, 2019.

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