Two new genetic variants associated with suicide attempts help to decode risk factors of this problem

Fernando Fernández-Aranda and Susana Jimenez-Murcia. Foto: IDIBELL

Fernando Fernández-Aranda and Susana Jimenez-Murcia. Foto: IDIBELL

A genetic study with more than half a million patients has identified two new variants related to the risk of suicide attempt. Carried out by the International Suicide Genetics Consortium and with the participation of UB experts, this research study determines that, for the first time, one of the first identified variants is not related to psychiatric disorders, and that it would contribute to the suicidal risk associated with other factors such as smoking, insomnia and propensity to assume risks.

Suicide has become a global public health problem and is one of the main causes of death, with almost a million cases per year worldwide. It is estimated that between 0.5% and 5% of the population will try to attempt suicide at least once in their lives. Among the risk factors are mainly psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depressive disorder and eating disorders, but others like sleeping problems, smoking or stress play an important role, all of them being factors that can be conditioned by genetics.

Now, the analysis of the genome-wide of more than half a million people has identified two new genetic variants associated with suicide attempts. These variants correspond to a coding gene for an important receptor of the immune system, and they are located in a region whose function is still unknown. What is remarkable about this finding is that one of these variants contributes to the genetic compound of suicide without being related to any psychiatric disease. Also, thanks to the wide sample size of the study, researchers could see this unrelated-to-psychiatric disorders contribution is related to other risk factors such as insomnia, smoking or propensity to take risks.

Among the participants of the study, recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, are Fernando Fernández-Aranda and Susana Jiménez-Murcia, lecturers at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the UB and members of IDIBELL and the Bellvitge University Hospital. With a sample five times higher than that of previous studies, this study intends to differentiate the genetic causes of suicide from psychiatric disorders and therefore characterize the relationship between suicide, psychiatric disorders and other risk factors.

According to the studies carried out to date, it is thought that between 17% and 55% of suicide risk would have a genetic aetiology, and therefore, could be inherited from parents to sons and daughters. A part of this percentage would be related to the inheritability of psychiatric disorders, but another unknown part, could be related to other risk factors to be determined, such as environmental factors and personality traits.


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