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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Jan;63(1):35-48.

Implication of SSAT by gene expression and genetic variation in suicide and major depression.

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McGill Group for Suicide Studies, Douglas Hospital, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



A large body of evidence suggests that predisposition to suicide, an important public health problem, is mediated to a certain extent by neurobiological factors.


To investigate patterns of expression in suicide with and without major depression and to identify new molecular targets that may play a role in the neurobiology of these conditions.


Brain gene expression analysis was performed using the Affymetrix HG-U133 chipset in the orbital cortex (Brodmann area [BA] 11), the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA8/9), and motor cortex (BA4). Subsequent studies were carried out in independent samples from adjacent areas to validate positive findings, confirm their relevance at the protein level, and investigate possible effects of genetic variation.


We investigated 12 psychiatrically normal control subjects and 24 suicide victims, including 16 with and 8 without major depression, in the brain gene expression analysis, validation, and protein studies. The genetic studies included 181 suicide completers and 80 psychiatrically normal controls. All subjects investigated were male and of French Canadian origin.


Gene expression measures from microarray, semiquantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry, and Western blot analyses.


Twenty-six genes were selected because of the consistency of their expression pattern (fold change, >1.3 in either direction [P<or=.01] in at least 2 regions). The spermine/spermidine N(1)-acetyltransferase gene (SSAT) was successfully validated by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry, and Western blot analyses. A variant located in the SSAT polyamine-responsive element regulatory region (SSAT342A/C) demonstrated a significant effect of genotype on SSAT brain expression levels (F(1) = 5.34; P = .02). Further investigation of this variant in an independent sample of 181 male suicide completers and 80 male controls showed a higher frequency of the SSAT342C allele among suicide cases (odds ratio, 2.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.4-5.3; P = .005), suggesting that this allele may increase predisposition to suicide.


These data suggest a role for SSAT, the rate-limiting enzyme in the catabolism of polyamines, in suicide and depression and a role for the SSAT342 locus in the regulation of SSAT gene expression.

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