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J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2013 Aug 13;38(5):130002. doi: 10.1503/jpn.130002. [Epub ahead of print]

Elevated incidence of suicide in people living at altitude, smokers and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma: possible role of hypoxia causing decreased serotonin synthesis.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montr√©al, Que., Canada.


Recent research indicates that suicide rates are elevated in those living at higher altitudes in both the United States and South Korea. A possible mechanism that was proposed is metabolic stress associated with hypoxia. This commentary discusses these results, and also the association between elevated suicide rates and other conditions associated with hypoxia (smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma). Tryptophan hydroxylase may not normally be saturated with oxygen, so mild hypoxia would decrease serotonin synthesis. Low brain serotonin is known to be associated with suicide. Thus, the commentary proposes and discusses the hypothesis that decreased brain serotonin synthesis associated with hypoxia is a mechanism that may contribute to suicide in conditions causing hypoxia. Finally the commentary proposes various studies that could test aspects of this hypothesis.

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