A new UK study has found evidence that a specific gene is linked to suicidal behavior.

Investigators believe this research may help experts target the gene in future prevention efforts.

Prior research has implicated the gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in suicidal behavior. BDNF is involved in the development of the nervous system.

After pooling results from 11 previous studies and adding their own study data involving people with schizophrenia, researchers confirmed that among people with a psychiatric diagnosis, those with one variation of the gene had a higher risk of suicidal behavior compared to those with a different variation.

Investigators reviewed data from 3,352 people, of whom 1,202 had a history of suicidal behavior. The research is published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

“Our findings may lead to the testing and development of treatments that target this gene in order to help prevent suicide,” says Dr. James Kennedy, director of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Neuroscience Research Department.

“In the future, if other researchers can replicate and extend our findings, then genetic testing may be possible to help identify people at increased risk for suicide.”

As the low-functioning BDNF met variation is a risk factor for suicidal behavior, it may also be possible to develop a compound to increase BDNF functioning, Dr. Kennedy says.

About 90 percent of people who have died by suicide have at least one mental health disorder, the researchers note.

In the current study, participants had schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or general mood disorders.

Researchers then compared the genotypes of people who had attempted or completed suicide with those who were nonsuicidal.

“Our findings provide a small piece of the puzzle on what causes suicidal behavior,” says Dr. Kennedy.

“When assessing a person’s suicide risk, it’s also important to consider environmental risk factors, such as early childhood or recent trauma, the use of addictive drugs or medications and other factors.”

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health