Swedish researchers have discovered a link between genetic changes in the so-called CRH gene, which affects the regulation of the body’s stress system, and suicide risk and psychiatric illness.
Investigators believe epigenetic changes — genetic changes influenced by the environment — in the body’s hormone-based stress system, influence both serious suicide attempts in adults and psychiatric illness in adolescents.
The research study, which is a collaboration between researchers at Umeå University, Karolinska Institutet, and Uppsala University in Sweden, appears in the journal EBioMedicine.
Previous studies have indicated an overactive stress system in individuals with increased suicide risk. In the current study, researchers report that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene are linked to serious suicide attempts in adults. The genetic changes are also found in adolescents with high risk of psychiatric illness.
Recently published research reveals that serious suicide attempts are associated with a reduced lifespan including an increased suicide risk and risk of mortality from natural causes (particularly in adolescents).
Moreover, the incidence of mental health issues among teens and young adults is on the rise. In the last 10 years, it has become twice as common for Swedish adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 to suffer from psychiatric illness.
In the study, researchers examined 88 individuals who had attempted suicide. The participants were divided into high and low risk groups based upon the severity of their suicidal behavior.
Through blood samples of the participants, epigenetic markers in the form of DNA methylation in the stress system-related genes were analyzed. In the next step, the discovered epigenetic changes in the CRH gene were studied in blood samples from two other cohort studies including 129 and 93 adolescents respectively in the age span of 14 to 17.
The adolescents were divided into high and low risk groups based upon assessments of their psychiatric symptoms. The results show that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene were more prevalent in the group of adolescents with an increased risk of psychiatric illness.
“Since psychiatric illness is a serious and growing public health problem, it’s important that we take early signs of psychiatric illness and suicidal behavior into consideration in suicide prevention,” said Dr. Jussi Jokinen, professor in psychiatry at Umeå University, who led the current study.
“Our environment affects our genetic expression, which is usually referred to as epigenetic change. Even if we aren’t able to draw distinct parallels between the findings in these cohort studies, our results still point towards the importance of an optimal regulation of the stress system for psychiatric illness.”
Source: Science Direct