A team of scientists from Binghamton University has found a unique protein signature in women who have a history of suicide attempts. The study could lead the way to developing a blood test to find if a person is at a suicide risk.
The team worked off another study that dealt with depression and anxiety in children, notes a report by Science Alert (SA). Mothers of the children participating in that study were roped in for the current research. In all, 73 women were chosen for the study and data, including habits, life history and socio-economic status was collected.
Participants were then divided into two groups – 34 women admitted to having inflicted injuries on themselves with an intent to commit suicide, the remaining 39 did not. All of the 73 women were put through mental health assessments and blood samples were taken for study, notes the report.
Scientists were looking for a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a specific protein in blood plasma. It is responsible the development of neural circuits. It has long been known in the scientific community that changes in neural plasticity plays a crucial role in the progression of suicidal tendencies and depression.
This is not the first time that reduced BDNF in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for personality development) and the hippocampus (responsible for memory) has been linked to suicide. In fact, it is something that has been studied by researchers in autopsied brains of those who have died as a result of suicide, notes the report.
This new study has found that the levels of BDNF is lower in the blood of women who were either considering or had attempted suicide in the past. So reduction over the long term is an actual characteristic.
"For this experiment, it was really important to understand that women with a history of suicide attempts who are not in a current suicidal crisis still have a BDNF marker that shows up lower," says researcher Brandon Gibb, the director of clinical training at Binghamton University.
SA report on the study notes that the women who attempted suicide, did so, on average, 13 years prior to the test. What this means is that "BDNF is not just a marker of a person's current suicidality or mood, but is actually a stable marker that may be able to predict risk of future suicide attempts," explains Gibb.
Also, the study found that a drop in BDNF did not mean that the body suffered a comparative drop in overall protein levels, nor is it indicative of the current mood, past anxiety or other similarly confusing factors, reports SA.
Speaking of the social stigma that is normally associated with those who have a history of life-threatening behaviour and the reluctance of people to go through specific tests out the fear of being labelled, Gibb pointed out that "testing BDNF levels can be incorporated into the standard blood test your primary care physician runs at annual checkups".
"Just like cholesterol levels help to determine levels of risk for heart disease, eventually doctors could have mental health tests that determine suicide risk."
While this means that such a blood test can be used as a robust marker to find out if women are in the risk bracket for suicide, this study is yet to expand to men and other demographics, note the researchers.
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