Increased methylation of a gene expressed in the prefrontal cortex, when combined with increased anxiety, significantly predicted a higher risk of suicide, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
Zachary Kaminsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and colleagues found higher levels of methylation in the SKA2 gene in postmortem samples of brain tissue of people who had diced by suicide, compared to controls. Then, the researchers looked at SKA2 methylation in the blood of living people diagnosed with major depression or bipolar disorder, two risk factors for suicide.
“SKA2 significantly interacted with anxiety and stress to explain about 80 percent of suicidal behavior and progression from suicidal ideation to suicide attempt,” wrote Kaminsky and colleagues, July 30 in AJP in Advance.
Methylation of SKA2 appears to inhibit regulation of the cell’s response to cortisol and increase the effects of stress, they noted.
The study opens a pathway to a potential biomarker that would identify people at greater risk for suicide, but only after further investigation, said Kaminsky et al.
“This is an intriguing study that identified a very meaningful gene,” commented Eric Caine, M.D., the John Romano Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. “However, before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to test this methodology and see if it applies in a larger, more general population.”
For more in Psychiatric News about research on the relationship between gene methylation and suicide, see: “Could DNA Methylation AffectSuicide Risk?”