Preventing suicide: A critical next step

February 20, 2013

Doctors may in the future be able to take a blood test to determine if a patient is suicidal, hopefully decreasing the number of people taking their own lives.

In Australia, suicide is the number one cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 44 (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Research published in Neuropsychopharmacology has found that a chemical in the brain called quinolinic acid is linked to suicidal behaviour. Quinolinic acid is produced as a by-product of inflammation.

The research shows that people who are suicidal have twice as much quinolinic acid in their bodies as healthy individuals. Those who have the strongest desire to kill themselves have the highest levels of the acid.

The increased acid indicates greater signalling of the between . The acid acts like a chemical switch to make the glutamate send more signals to . Until now the focus for depression has remained on another neurotransmitter, serotonin.

The researchers took the samples of the quinolinic acid from the spinal fluid of 100 patients in Sweden. Two-thirds of the participants had been admitted to hospital after a and the rest were healthy.

UNSW researchers, who are world-leaders in research on quinolinic acid, were brought in to analyse the samples.

"We have previously demonstrated that the neurotoxin quinolinic acid is involved in the neuroinflammatory response in several including Alzheimer's disease, autism and schizophrenia," says Conjoint Associate Professor Gilles Guillemin from UNSW Medicine.

The team is now working on a possible blood test to determine if people are at elevated risk of suicide.

"We now know the mechanism and the molecule involved, so we have to find a simple way of testing it," says Associate Professor Guillemin.

Ultimately, it is hoped that medical practitioners will be able to stop the production of quinolinic acid by using specific enzyme inhibitors blocking its production. Recently published clinical studies have shown the anaesthetic ketamine, which inhibits glutamate signalling, may be effective in combating depression, although its side effects currently limit its use.

Explore further: The architects of the brain: Scientists decipher the role of calcium signals

Related Stories

Countering brain chemical could prevent suicides

December 14, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers have found the first proof that a chemical in the brain called glutamate is linked to suicidal behavior, offering new hope for efforts to prevent people from taking their own lives.

Recommended for you

First language wires brain for later language-learning

December 1, 2015

You may believe that you have forgotten the Chinese you spoke as a child, but your brain hasn't. Moreover, that "forgotten" first language may well influence what goes on in your brain when you speak English or French today.

Watching eyes prevent littering

December 1, 2015

People are less likely to drop litter if it has printed eyes on it, researchers at Newcastle University, UK, have found. An image of watching eyes reduced the odds of littering by around two thirds.

Anxiety can kill your social status

December 1, 2015

Neuroscientists at EPFL identify a brain region that links anxious temperament to low social status. The researchers were able to tweak social hierarchy in animals by using vitamin B3.

How can I tell if she's lying?

November 27, 2015

Sarcasm, white lies and teasing can be difficult to identify for those with certain disorders – new video inventory developed at McGill may help


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.