BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Every 16 minutes, an American commits suicide. It's the 11th leading cause of death in this country, a fact being widely noted during National Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 6-12. And now researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are looking deep inside the brain for ways to determine the reasons people commit suicide and identify those most likely to attempt it.
Monsheel Sodhi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, says it is generally perceived that suicide tends to run in families. Genes, which are the blueprint for a cell's formation, use proteins to carry out their instructions. Sodhi is examining the role of specific proteins in the brain to develop a test that potentially could identify those at highest risk so they could be steered to therapy.
Funded by a grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Sodhi is investigating a protein called the serotonin 2C receptor. Scientists refer to it as a signaling protein, one of several that are responsible for the proper functioning of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates feelings of well-being and happiness. Serotonin 2C interacts with anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac, which are thought to treat depression by boosting serotonin signalling.
"Most people who attempt or complete suicide have an underlying psychiatric illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia," said Sodhi. "An imbalance in serotonin is one factor thought to contribute to such illnesses. The imbalance might be caused by low production of serotonin or inability of cells to receive it or even a problem in the pathways in which serotonin signals travel."
That leads Sodhi to a second type of protein called ADAR, which seems to inhibit the activity of the serotonin 2C protein when serotonin is absent. Simply put, too much ADAR leads to too little serotonin 2C signali
|Contact: Bob Shepard|
University of Alabama at Birmingham