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Int J Legal Med. 2014 Jan;128(1):73-82. doi: 10.1007/s00414-013-0835-6. Epub 2013 Feb 22.

Neurobiology of suicide: do biomarkers exist?

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Department of Mental Health and Psychiatry, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.


Clinical risk factors have a low predictive value on suicide. This may explain the increasing interest in potential neurobiological correlates and specific heritable markers of suicide vulnerability. This review aims to present the current neurobiological findings that have been shown to be implicated in suicide completers and to discuss how postmortem studies may be useful in characterizing these individuals. Data on the role of the main neurobiological systems in suicidality, such as the neurotransmitter families, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, neurotrophic factors, and polyamines, are exposed at the different biochemical, genetic, and epigenetic levels. Some neuroanatomic and neuropathological aspects as well as their in vivo morphological and functional neuroimaging correlates are also described. Except for the serotoninergic system, particularly with respect to the polymorphism of the gene coding for the serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, data did not converge to produce a univocal consensus. The possible limitations of currently published studies are discussed, as well as the scope for long-term prospective studies.

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