The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention: Research, Policy and Practice

By Rory C. O’Connor; Jane Pirkis | Go to book overview

9
Relationships of Genes
and Early-Life Experience
to the Neurobiology
of Suicidal Behavior

J. John Mann and Dianne Currier


Introduction

Suicidal behavior occurs in the context of a diathesis or predisposition that is characterized by traits in multiple domains: behavioral, clinical, cognitive, personality, and biologic (see Mann & Currier, 2008, for an overview). These traits have their origins in combinations of genetic and early-life experiences during critical formative periods of development. Thirty years of research have yielded considerable insight into neurobiological dysfunction associated with suicidal behavior as a phenotype, and with a number of traits belonging to the diathesis such as reactive aggression, deficits in executive function, negative or rigid cognitive processes, impaired problem solving, and recurrent mood disorders. The major systems where abnormalities have been observed in suicide and nonfatal suicide attempts are the serotonergic system, and the stress-response systems of the noradrenergic system and hypothalamic–pituitary– adrenal (HPA) axis. In this chapter, we outline the main alterations in neurobiological function that have been documented in suicide attempters and those who die by suicide, and then review current knowledge of putative etiological pathways from genes, early-life experiences, and the interaction between the two, to those functional alterations.


Biological Alterations in Suicidal Behavior

Serotonergic System

The most consistent finding associated with suicidal behavior is dysfunction in the serotonergic system (Mann, 2003). Altered serotonergic function indices include the serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF 5HIAA), serotonin receptors and transporter in postmortem brain, gene variants, and in vivo

The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, Second Edition. Edited by Rory C. O’Connor and Jane Pirkis. © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

-149-

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