Scientists have found that mutations in a gene that helps to cope with stress could increase the risk of suicide.
Every 40 seconds someone in the world commits suicide. A new discovery by the Johns Hopkins University researchers could help lower this statistic, British media reported.
Suicide is a major preventable public health problem, with a test like this, they may be able to stem suicide rates by identifying those people and intervening early enough to head off a catastrophe.
Researchers focused on a genetic mutation in a gene known as SKA2.
By looking at brain samples from mentally ill and healthy people, the researchers found that in samples from people who had died by suicide, levels of SKA2 were significantly reduced.
Within this common mutation, they then found in some subjects an epigenetic modification that altered the way the SKA2 gene functioned without changing the gene’s underlying DNA sequence.
The modification added chemicals called methyl groups to the gene.
Higher levels of methylation were then found in the same study subjects who had killed themselves. The higher levels of methylation among suicide decedents were then replicated in two independent brain cohorts.
In another part of the study, the researchers tested three different sets of blood samples, the largest one involving 325 participants in the Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention Research Study found similar methylation increases at SKA2 in individuals with suicidal thoughts or attempts.
They then designed a model analysis that predicted which of the participants were experiencing suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide with 80 percent certainty. Those with more severe risk of suicide were predicted with 90 percent accuracy.
In the youngest data set, they were able to identify with 96 percent accuracy whether or not a participant had attempted suicide, based on blood test results.
Researchers said that a test based on these findings might best be used to predict future suicide attempts in those who are ill, to restrict lethal means or methods among those a risk, or to make decisions regarding the intensity of intervention approaches.