Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Brain Imaging Might Help Identify Individuals at Risk of Suicide

It might eventually be possible to use brain imaging to help identify individuals at risk of suicide, as a result of a new finding reported in Biological Psychiatry by Jeffrey Miller, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, and colleagues. Using PET brain imaging, they found that depressed suicide attempters had significantly lower binding of the serotonin transporter in the midbrain region than did depressed individuals who did not attempt suicide and control subjects who did not have a psychiatric disorder.

This finding is "important," Fabrice Jollant, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Canada and an imaging expert, told Psychiatric News, explaining that it might someday be possible for brain imaging to help identify individuals at risk of suicide before they act on it. That development will depend, however, on a longitudinal prospective study showing that low serotonin transporter binding is indeed predictive of a higher risk of suicide attempts. Miller told Psychiatric News that and he and his colleagues already have such a trial underway.

While research is studying whether technology can help prevent suicides, other research has shown the efficacy of several prevention strategies and tools. Read more about suicide prevention in Psychiatric News here and here. In addition, guidance on preventing suicides can be found in American Psychiatric Publishing's Preventing Patient Suicide: Clinical Assessment and Management. 

(Image: Gonul Kokal/


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