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Brain Nerve. 2012 Aug;64(8):929-35.

[The neuroscience of suicide].

[Article in Japanese]

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Department of Physiology, Toho University School of Medicine, Japan.


Various postmortem brain studies have provided evidence that reduced serotonin (5-HT) transmission in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) is associated with depression-related suicide. Suicide victims have fewer 5-HT transporter sites and a large number of postsynaptic 5-HT1A and 5-HT receptors in the vlPFC, which are implicated in behavioral inhibition and impulsivity. These could be compensatory changes in response to 5-HT hypofunction in depression and suicide. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used for the treatment of depression and suicidal ideation. 5-HT innervation of the PFC arises predominantly from 5-HT neurons in the brainstem dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN). In the DRN of suicide cases, 5-HT1A autoreceptors are increased and the levels of 5-HT biosynthetic enzyme, tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH), are reduced. Reduced 5-HT1A feedback inhibition and increased TPH may reflect compensatory changes in response to 5-HT hypofunction in depression-related suicide. Genetic polymorphisms in TPH, 5-HT transporter (5-HTTLPR allele), and 5-HT2A receptor were examined for their association with depression-related suicide, but no consistent associations were found. Stress is a risk factor for depression and is linked to hyperactivity of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis and suicide. Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-immunoreactive varicose fibers were detected in the DRN of suicide victims, suggesting that CRF neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and 5-HT neurons in the DRN may form a circuit in stress-induced depression. Alcoholics are at a significantly greater risk of suicide than the general population. Alcoholism is associated with alterations in the 5-HT system.

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