The causes of suicide are complex, but they seem to involve some combination of nature and nurture.
Now, a new study by Japanese scientists sought to elucidate the pathological features of suicide at the cellular level. Specifically, the team was interested in determining how the chromosomes and mitochondria of people who commit suicide differ from healthy, living people who do not commit suicide.
Telomeres, special DNA sequences which can be thought of as protective “caps” on the ends of DNA,…grow shorter as we age, but they are also abnormally short in people with certain physical ailments or mental illnesses or who are experiencing severe stress…Similarly, [the number of circular DNA in] mitochondria have been linked to both aging and various illnesses.
As shown, people who commit suicide had significantly shorter telomeres than healthy controls. When the data was stratified by age and sex, the same pattern existed in all young people and middle-aged women. There was no difference in telomere length for elderly people, perhaps because telomeres naturally shorten as we age.
Conversely, [the mitochondrial DNA copy number] was significantly higher in those who committed suicide.
While these [biological] changes are not likely to be responsible for them committing suicide, they instead could serve as a biomarker for risk of suicide.
[Read the full study here]
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