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Suicide Attempt Linked With Genetic Depression Liability

June 26, 2019

A genetic liability for major depression increases a patient’s risk for attempting suicide regardless of psychiatric disorder diagnoses, according to a genome-wide association study published online in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

“Like many psychiatric disorders, suicide attempt is known to have a partially genetic underpinning, and genetic studies can provide invaluable insights into the underlying biology,” said Niamh Mullins, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatric genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York.

“Through the collective efforts of many researchers, we analyzed the genomes of suicide attempters and nonattempters across three major psychiatric disorders,” Mullins said. “Our data showed that suicide attempters with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or a schizophrenia diagnosis carry a greater genetic liability for major depression than nonattempters.”

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The study, which is the largest genome-wide association study on suicide attempt to date, compared the genomes of 6569 people who attempted suicide and 17,232 people who did not. All participants had major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia and lived in Europe, the United States, or Australia.

Using polygenic risk scores, researchers discovered participants with a suicide attempt carried increased genetic liability for depression regardless of their specific psychiatric diagnosis.

“This study provides new information on genetic associations and demonstrates that genetic liability for major depression increases risk for suicide attempt across psychiatric disorders,” researchers concluded. “Further collaborative efforts to increase sample size may help to robustly identify genetic associations and provide biological insights into the etiology of suicide attempt.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Mullins N, Bigdeli TB, Børglum AD, et al. GWAS of suicide attempt in psychiatric disorders and association with major depression polygenic risk scores. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2019 June 5;[Epub ahead of print].

Individuals who attempt suicide carry an increased genetic liability for depression, regardless of their psychiatric disorder [press release]. New York, New York: Mount Sinai Health System; June 5, 2019.

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