Thursday, August 7, 2008

Suicide's genetic key discovered

From the July 31st edition of The Globe and Mail:
By Carly Weeks

Canadian researchers may have discovered the underlying cause that leads some people to commit suicide or suffer major depression, a finding that could revolutionize how mental disorders are treated.

After examining the brains of people who committed suicide, a team of scientists discovered an abundance of protein affecting a particular gene that controls anxiety and stress compared with the brains of people who had died of heart attacks or other natural causes.

The study is part of the burgeoning field of epigenetics that examines how genes are regulated, or turned on and off.

"It's a really new avenue of research," said Michael Poulter, lead researcher and professor in the physiology and pharmacology department at the University of Western Ontario.

"There's only a few people around the world that are doing it."

In this study, researchers found that people who committed suicide had elevated levels of a specific protein.

They believe the abundance of the protein alters or modifies a gene that normally helps people cope with stress. As a result of the change, the gene shuts down and malfunctions, inhibiting the individual's ability to handle stress and cope with anxiety.

The researchers, whose findings were published in this month's Biological Psychiatry journal, aren't sure why some people have higher levels of the protein. But Dr. Poulter believes it is somehow linked to stressful life events and how people may cope with them in different ways.
To read the entire article, click here.

Thanks go to John Devlin for bringing this article to my attention.

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