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J Affect Disord. 2005 Jun;86(2-3):281-7.

White matter hyperintensities and their association with suicidality in depressed young adults.

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  • 1Laboratory of Developmental Psychology and Developmental Psychopathology, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.



Researchers and clinicians have increasingly recognized that biological markers may help identify patients who are at risk for suicide. The objective of this retrospective, cross-sectional study was to compare the prevalence and location of white matter hyperintensities (WMH) in young inpatients with major depressive disorder (MDD) with and without histories of suicide attempts.


T2-weighted magnetic resonance images (MRI) of 102 young psychiatric inpatients with MDD were rated for the presence of WMH. Medical charts were reviewed to ascertain history of suicide attempt, demographic and clinical variables. Fisher's Exact Tests and logistic regression modeling were used to test the association between WMH and suicidality.


Bivariate analysis showed that the prevalence of periventricular WMH was significantly higher in subjects with past suicide attempts (Fisher's Exact Test, p=0.02). Logistic regression analyses controlling for age, sex, and several clinical risk factors supported this finding (odds ratio=5.7; 95% confidence interval: 1.6, 21.2).


Due to the retrospective, cross-sectional design of our study, we are unable to determine if the WMH preceded or followed past suicide attempts. The generalizability of our findings is limited since this group of inpatients is more severely ill than the general psychiatric population.


The increased prevalence of periventricular WMH in young adults with MDD and a history of suicide attempt, compared to similarly depressed adults without such a history, is consistent with our findings in children and youth, and suggests there might be neurobiological in addition to psychosocial risk factors for suicide.

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