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UCI researchers reveal possible molecular blood signature for suicide in major depression

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UCI School of Medicine
Corresponding author Adolfo Sequeira, PhD, associate researcher in the Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior at the UCI School of Medicine, stated, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to analyze blood and brain samples in a well-defined population of MDDs demonstrating significant differences in gene expression associated with completed suicide.”

New approach integrates blood and brain data to identify potential blood biomarkers

Irvine, CA – May 5, 2022 – A University of California, Irvine-led team of researchers, along with members of the Pritzker Research Consortium, have developed an approach to identify blood biomarkers that could predict the suicide risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) patients.

The study, titled, “Identification of potential blood biomarkers associated with suicide in major depressive disorder,” was published in Translational Psychiatry.

Results from the study demonstrate non-preserved blood can be used to discover suicide specific biomarkers using a novel gene expression approach and a gene expression quantification approach less sensitive to the effects of RNA degradation (NanoString).  In addition to identifying individuals at highest risk for suicide, the results can help researchers understand molecular changes in suicide victims.

“These blood biomarkers are an important step toward developing blood tests to identify patients with imminent risk of ending their lives,” said corresponding author Adolfo Sequeira, PhD, associate researcher in the Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior at the UCI School of Medicine. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to analyze blood and brain samples in a well-defined population of MDDs demonstrating significant differences in gene expression associated with completed suicide.”

After analyzing data from blood and brain samples from suicide victims, researchers found gene expression changes in stress response, including polyamine metabolism, circadian rhythm, immune dysregulation and telomere maintenance. 

Researchers used data, obtained in collaboration with the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Consortium, from non (RNA) preserved blood samples in combination with gene expression data from blood and brain samples from the same subjects. Subjects with no psychiatric diagnosis (all non-suicides) and major depression subjects who died of suicide or from natural causes were included in the study.

Suicide is a serious global public health problem that accounts for close to 800,000 deaths per year. In the United States alone, suicide rates increased by more than 35 percent over the past 20 years, with over 48,000 just last year. Suicide prevention strategies and current medications, although helpful, have not stemmed the increase in self-inflicted deaths. Many individuals do not disclose suicidal intentions despite frequent contact with healthcare professionals. An estimated 30 percent of suicides visit a healthcare provider within a month of the suicide event. A dramatic rise in suicide also occurs in the days to weeks following discharge from psychiatric hospitals. Thus, there is a critical opportunity for healthcare providers to evaluate at-risk individuals with a blood biomarker test to assess serious suicide intent.

This study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the American Society for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Pritzker Family Philanthropic Fund.   

About the UCI School of Medicine: Each year, the UCI School of Medicine educates more than 400 medical students, and nearly 150 doctoral and master’s students. More than 700 residents and fellows are trained at UCI Medical Center and affiliated institutions. The School of Medicine offers an MD; a dual MD/PhD medical scientist training program; and PhDs and master’s degrees in anatomy and neurobiology, biomedical sciences, genetic counseling, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and biophysics, and translational sciences. Medical students also may pursue an MD/MBA, an MD/master’s in public health, or an MD/master’s degree through one of three mission-based programs: the Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medicine (HEAL-IM), the Leadership Education to Advance Diversity-African, Black and Caribbean (LEAD-ABC), and the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). The UCI School of Medicine is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Accreditation and ranks among the top 50 nationwide for research. For more information, visit som.uci.edu.

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