• 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

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai is a national and international source of unrivaled education, translational research and discovery, and collaborative clinical leadership ensuring that we deliver the highest quality care—from prevention to treatment of the most serious and complex human diseases. The Health System includes more than 7,200 physicians and features a robust and continually expanding network of multispecialty services, including more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the Top 20 Best Hospitals in the country and the Icahn School of Medicine as one of the Top 20 Best Medical Schools in country. Mount Sinai Health System hospitals are consistently ranked regionally by specialty and our physicians in the top 1% of all physicians nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

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