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A Simple Blood Test Can Predict Risk of Suicide

blood tests

Image credit: Neeta Lind via Flickr CC BY 2.0.

According to the article published in recent edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, scientists claim that they have found that a chemical alteration to a single gene could cause people at risk of trying suicide. If it is confirmed, it would be translated into a simple approach to prediction of suicide risk through blood test.

As Zachary Kaminsky of Johns Hopkins said in a news release, suicide was now regarded as a major health problem among public, which could be somehow preventable. However but the efforts in its prevention had been hindered, because scientists failed to find the consistent way to predict those who were facing with the increased risk of ending their lives.

Now researchers are quite interested in the gene called SKA2, which is closely associated with the brain’s reaction to stress hormones. If some changes occur to this gene, it could turn everyday strain into suicidal thoughts. SKA2 is expressed in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for stopping negative thoughts and controlling impulsive behavior. SKA2 is especially involved in protecting stress hormone receptors. If SKA2 is insufficient or changed in some way, it would cause someone under stress to be unable to prevent the effect of the stress hormone.

Kaminsky and his team were engaged in sample analysis targeted on postmortem brains from healthy people as well as those who were mentally ill, some of whom had committed suicide. To their surprise, the samples from those who died by suicide clearly showed that levels of their SKA2 were obviously decreased.

Within this common mutation, Kaminsky and his colleagues tried to seek for epigenetic modifications, kind of chemical triggers which could change DNA by the means of turning genes on or off. Such chemical triggers could change the way SKA2 worked without altering the underlying DNA sequence of the gene.

One type of modification is suggested to add methyl groups (one carbon bonded to three hydrogen atoms) to a gene. It is discovered by scientists that levels of methylation in those who committed suicide is much higher, so that they could not to shut down the effect of the stress hormone.

By using a model designed itself, the team has tested hundreds of blood samples to predict the participants who had some suicidal thoughts or had tried to kill themselves. It is amazing that the accuracy of their prediction of severe risk of suicide is nearly 90 percent right.

On the basis of such findings, the simple blood test could be much helpful in identifying the requirement for hospitalization or how close monitoring should be kept on an at-risk person. However, as the scales of severity and varying spectrums illustrating the action of contemplating, planning, and attempting suicide are various, so the biomarker might not be a determining test suitable for all cases.

In addition, as a person vulnerable to stress and anxiety, it does not necessarily mean that he would be destined to experience suicidal thoughts, sometimes resilience is involved in this respect. Take a person intending to cross the street for example, it doesn’t show you would be destined to be hit, but it could suggest that you should act as a more aware pedestrian when doing this.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Journal reference: Guintivano, Jerry, et al. “Identification and Replication of a Combined Epigenetic and Genetic Biomarker Predicting Suicide and Suicidal Behaviors.” American Journal of Psychiatry (2014).