University of Utah researchers identify 4 gene variants linked to heightened suicide risk

Jordan Allred/Deseret News

By Ben Lockhart | Deseeret News

University of Utah Health researchers have identified some genetic factors that may increase a person’s risk of dying by suicide, according to the results of a newly published study.

Variants in four genes — known as APH1B, AGBL2, SP110 and SUCLA2 — were identified as being noticeably associated with suicide risk, according to the study published in late October in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The findings strengthen existing research linking genetics and suicide, and could have implications leading to “new treatments for those who suffer,” said Dr. Douglas Gray, the senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at the U.

Using the statistical resources of the Utah Population Database, U. researchers studied 43 extended families that, over the course of several generations, exhibited high suicide risk. Gene variants determined to be prevalent in these families were then tested for their frequency in a generalized sample of 1,300 suicides in Utah for which DNA was available.

In addition to the four genes that were determined to be being strongly associated with suicide risk, the study found another 207 genes that did not show as strong of a statistical connection but at least indicated they “warrant further analysis to understand their potential role in people who die by suicide,” U. Health science writer Stacy Kish said in a release.

Of those 207 genes identified, 18 have previously been linked to suicide risk in other scientific studies, according to Kish. Psychiatry professor Hilary Coon, first author of the paper published in Molecular Psychiatry, said there is considerable value in using suicide data from large extended families across generations, because they share genetic traits but not necessarily environmental factors that can also have an effect on suicidal behavior.

Close relatives are more likely to “also share all kinds of other things that might be risk factors” besides genetics, Coon said, such as financial troubles, toxic exposures in their physical environment or social stressors.

Coon believes the study findings point to a future in which a person’s genetic information can give them a useful heads up to their suicide risk, helping them “be more diligent in making sure (they’re) getting access to care.”

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