• Press Release

Individuals Who Attempt Suicide Carry an Increased Genetic Liability for Depression, Regardless of Their Psychiatric Disorder

Study provides new information on the genetic basis of suicide attempt

  • New York, NY
  • (June 05, 2019)

The largest genome wide association study (GWAS) to date on suicide attempt reveals that genetic liability to depression increases an individual’s risk for suicide attempt regardless of the psychiatric disorder they are affected by, according to the work led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published June 5 in The American Journal of Psychiatry

Suicide is a worldwide public health problem with more than 800,000 deaths due to suicide each year. Suicide and suicide attempts have an emotional toll on families and friends of those who died, as well as on attempt survivors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide costs the US economy $51 billion per year in medical costs for individuals and families, lost income for families, and lost productivity for employers. These stark figures highlight the urgent need for improved prevention and treatment, yet progress has been hampered by the lack of reliable methods for predicting suicidality and a poor understanding of its biological etiology.

“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,” says Niamh Mullins, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychiatric Genomics. “Through the collective efforts of many researchers, we analyzed the genomes of suicide attempters and non-attempters across three major psychiatric disorders.  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 non-attempters.”

Specifically, the current study compared the genomes of 6,569 suicide attempters and 17,232 non-attempters with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, an international collaboration for conducting large-scale genetic studies of psychiatric disorders. Samples were combined across 46 individual cohorts from Europe, the United States, and Australia. Using polygenic risk scores, which summarize an individual’s genetic liability to a disease based on the results of an independent genetic study, the research team showed that suicide attempters carry an increased genetic liability for depression, regardless of the psychiatric disorder they are affected by.

“These results indicate the existence of a shared genetic etiology between suicide attempt and major depression that is common to suicide attempt in different psychiatric disorders,” says Dr. Mullins. “Our study is the first consortium-based GWAS on suicide attempt and makes significant progress in increasing numbers by combining samples across clinical cohorts. However, further collaborative efforts to amass samples on an even larger scale will be essential to identify specific genetic variants which play a role in increasing risk of suicide attempt.”

This study provides novel insights into the genetic basis of suicide attempt. The ultimate goal of this research is to undercover the biological mechanisms underlying suicidality and develop new treatments and preventions, in order to reduce its burden on patients, families and healthcare systems.

Kings College London and many other research institutions contributed data to the study through the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which has received major funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.


About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with more than 43,000 employees working across eight hospitals, over 400 outpatient practices, nearly 300 labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time — discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians; 13 joint-venture outpatient surgery centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and more than 30 affiliated community health centers. We are consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report's Best Hospitals, receiving high "Honor Roll" status, and are highly ranked: No. 1 in Geriatrics and top 20 in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology/Lung Surgery, Rehabilitation, and Urology. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 12 in Ophthalmology. U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” ranks Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital among the country’s best in 4 out of 10 pediatric specialties. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: It is consistently ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools," aligned with a U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll" Hospital, and top 20 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding and top 5 in the nation for numerous basic and clinical research areas. Newsweek’s “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals” ranks The Mount Sinai Hospital as No. 1 in New York and in the top five globally, and Mount Sinai Morningside in the top 20 globally.

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