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Are brain structural differences associated with suicidal ideation in youth?


A new study by a global team of researchers, including Ned Jahanshad, Ph.D., of the Keck School of Medicine, Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics (Stevens INI), found subtle changes in the size of the prefrontal region of the brain in young adults with mood disorders and suicidal thoughts. and behavior. The study was recently published in


“Together with my colleagues at Stevens INI, an international group of neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists has come together under the ENIGMA Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Working Group (ENIGMA-STB), funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and part of the ENIGMA consortium. , to combine the amount of data needed for this type of study. Suicidal behavior occurs in many mental illnesses, so rather than focusing on one disorder in small samples, we combined researchers who had data on suicidal behavior in young adults and coordinated a large-scale team science initiative to compare disease data here, with a focus on youth,” Jahanshad said.

“Using the large data set we had available, we were able to analyze several subsamples,” said Laura van Velzen, Ph.D., PhD student at the University of Melbourne’s Center for Youth Mental Health and first author of the study.


“We started with data from a smaller group of young people with mood disorders for whom very detailed suicide information was available. Next, we were able to look at larger and more diverse samples in terms of type of diagnosis and instruments used to assess suicidal ideation and behavior.

Our results show subtle changes in the size of the frontal pole, a prefrontal region, in this first sample of young adults, and suggest that these associations may be absent or more difficult to detect in more diverse samples. In addition to identifying subtle changes in prefrontal brain structure associated with suicidal behavior in young adults, our study demonstrates the power of pooling data from 21 international studies and the need for careful harmonization of data between studies.”

“The structural brain differences we found were very subtle, which means that most people with a history of suicidal behavior have brains that are not very different from people without a history of suicidal behavior, which is encouraging,” van Velzen added. “However, the subtle differences we found give us a better understanding of the mechanisms behind suicidal behavior and may ultimately be important targets for the next generation of more effective suicide prevention strategies.”

With these results, the research team draws attention to the urgent need for additional studies of this scope. Ongoing work by the same group will include extended analysis to include additional age groups and examine other features such as brain connectivity.

“The study provides evidence to support a promising future in which we find new and improved ways to reduce the risk of suicide. We especially hope that scientists like our co-authors on this paper are coming together in a broader collaborative effort that holds great promise,” said Leanne Schmall, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Melbourne, who co-authored the study.

In addition to research work for the ENIGMA consortium at Stevens INI, Jahanshad also takes a social approach to his work on mental illness. She is the faculty sponsor of Trojan Support, a peer-to-peer organization that provides students with opportunities to connect with trained fellow Trojans for support and thoughtful conversation to promote mental and emotional health. Jahanshad mentored Trojan Support president and founder Armand Amini, researching brain maps to better understand suicide risk factors at Stevens INI. Amini decided to start the organization after recognizing the need for a peer group for those who feel uncomfortable seeking professional help.

“This study shows the power of researchers like Dr. Jahanshad and her colleagues who strive to team up with experts around the world to better understand and collect a significant amount of data,” says INI Director Arthur W. Togo, Ph.D.

“The goal of the ENIGMA consortium is to bring together researchers from around the world so that we can pool existing data samples and really improve our ability to study the brain in these potentially devastating mental illnesses. Additionally, the collaborative efforts of our faculty and former students like Armand Aminis, demonstrate our commitment to putting our research to practical use for the benefit of the USC community and beyond.”

Source: Eurekalert

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