Four Gene Variants Associated With Increased Suicide Risk

November 27, 2018

By zeroing in on 43 extended families with significant familial risk, researchers have identified variants in four genes that may increase the risk of death by suicide. They published their findings online in Molecular Psychiatry.

“Past studies of families and twins informed us that there is significant genetic risk associated with suicide,” explained senior study author Douglas Gray, MD, professor of psychiatry at University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City. “Genes are like blueprints. The first step is to find the genes that increase risk. Identifying specific genes may lead to new treatments for those who suffer.” 

Researchers linked a resource from the Utah medical examiner of approximately 4500 DNA samples from people who completed suicide to genealogical and medical records data for more than 8 million people. From this, they identified extended families across 7 to 9 generations with significant familial risk of dying by suicide. Forty-three families underwent closer genetic analysis.

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“We are using high-risk very extended families like a magnifying glass to get us to the right genes that increase the risk for this tragic outcome,” said first author Hilary Coon, PhD, a psychiatry professor at University of Utah Health.

According to the study, changes in genes SP110, AGBL2, SUCLA2, and APH1B may increase the risk of death by suicide.

Additionally, researchers identified 207 genes warranting further analysis into their possible role in suicide risk. Eighteen of them have previously been linked with suicide risk, including 15 genes associated with inflammatory conditions. The latter supports increasing evidence of a relationship between mental health and inflammation.

“In this study, we began by looking for the low-hanging fruit, the genomic changes that could affect the structure or function of a gene,” Dr. Coon said. “We think these results are just the tip of the iceberg. We will continue to search for additional gene changes that lead to risk.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Coon H, Darlington TM, DiBlasi E, et al. Genome-wide significant regions in 43 Utah high-risk families implicate multiple genes involved in risk for completed suicide. Molecular Psychiatry. 2018 October 23;[Epub ahead of print].

Exploring the genetic contribution to suicide risk [press release]. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Health; November 19, 2018.