Researchers identify biomarkers for possible blood test to predict suicide risk

Aug. 23, 2013

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers have found a series of RNA biomarkers in blood that may help identify who is at risk for committing suicide. In a study reported in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers said the biomarkers were found at significantly higher levels in the blood of bipolar disorder patients with thoughts of suicide as well as in a group of people who had committed suicide. Principal investigator Alexander B. Niculescu III, MD, PhD, believes the results provide a first “proof of principle” for a test that could give early warning of higher risk for an impulsive suicide act.

Over three years, Niculescu and colleagues followed a large group of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, completing interviews and taking blood samples every three to six months. They conducted a variety of analyses of the blood of a subset of participants who reported a dramatic shift from no suicidal thoughts to strong suicidal ideation, identified differences in gene expression between the “low” and “high” states of suicidal thoughts, and subjected those findings to genetic and genomic analysis that identified and prioritized the best markers. They found that the marker SAT1 and a series of other markers provided the strongest biological “signal” associated with suicidal thoughts. To validate their findings, they analyzed blood samples from suicide victims and found that some of the same top markers were significantly elevated.

Finally, researchers analyzed blood test results from two additional groups of patients and found that high blood levels of the biomarkers were correlated with future suicide-related hospitalizations, as well as hospitalizations that had occurred before the blood tests. Read the study.