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Study Links Attempted Suicide With Genetic Evidence

A Johns Hopkins-led study has found evidence that a genetic tendency toward suicide has been linked to a particular area of the genome// on chromosome 2. The same has been implicated in two additional recent studies of attempted suicide.

“We’re hoping our findings will eventually lead to tests that can identify those at high risk for attempting suicide,” says Virginia Willour, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. An estimated 4.6 percent of Americans ages 15 to 54 have tried to take their lives, according to Willour.

The investigators conducted a family linkage study in which they searched for commonalities in the genomes of family members with bipolar disorder and a history of attempted suicide. The same gene region on chromosome 2 that was identified by this bipolar disorder and attempted suicide study was recently identified by two complementary family studies that looked at attempted suicide in families with major depression and alcohol dependence.

“Family linkage studies are not always consistent, so the fact that all three studies, including ours, point to the same region of the genome is a good indication that we are on the right track toward identifying a gene or genes that play a role in why a person chooses to take his or her own life,” says Willour.

In the multi-institutional study, results of which appear in the March issue of Biological Psychiatry, the researchers examined data from 162 families with bipolar disorder. They looked at attempted suicide in this sample because it is an important clinical problem that tends to occur more often in some of these families than in others, suggesting a distinctive genetic basis, according to senior author James B. Potash, M.D., M.P.H., of the Department of Psychiatry at Hopkins. This technique, of looking at sub-types of illness, is used by genetic researchers a
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