Though they only compose 8.5% of the U.S. population, veterans make up 18% of all suicides. Complicating matters is that research into this phenomenon often compares veterans who complete suicide to healthy veterans. However, the latter may not be an appropriate control group, since people who commit suicide often have an underlying mental health issue. Instead, it may be better to compare veterans who have attempted suicide to a group of veterans who have not attempted suicide, but have similar psychiatric histories.
To accomplish this, a team of researchers performed a case-control study. They enrolled 20 veterans who recently had attempted suicide and matched them with 20 veterans of similar age, race, sex, and psychiatric history. Then, the team drew blood samples and measured gene expression.*
The team found that genes in three different pathways were differentially expressed between veterans who attempted suicide and those who had not. One of the genetic pathways that showed substantial disruption is known as mTOR, the dysregulation of which has been previously linked to major depressive disorder.
It must be noted that a study of this nature cannot determine causation. While gene expression differences between individuals suggests a causative role, it does not prove it.
[Editor’s note: Read the full study]
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