Gene Expression: What Genes Can Tell Us About Depression and Suicide

Gene Expression: What Genes Can Tell Us About Depression and Suicide

Yogesh Dwivedi, Ph.D.

Yogesh Dwivedi, Ph.D., received an AFSP Standard Research Grant to study MicroRNA (miRNA) expression in the brains of depressed people who died by suicide, comparing them with brains of people who died by other causes. MicroRNAs are the molecules that tell genes when to turn on and turn off.  MiRNAs are plentiful and play a major role in how our brains function and in the causes of many diseases. Treatments focusing on miRNA’s are being developed and tested.  AFSP has funded Dr. Dwivedi to study many miRNAs. His paper was published online in March 2012.

Dr. Dwivedi compared the brain tissue from the prefrontal cortex of 18 people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) who died by suicide and compared them with 17 people without psychiatric disorders who died by other means. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is of particular interest in suicide because that area of the brain plays a key role in impulsive and aggressive behavior and our ability to organize and control our behavior. Behavioral and imaging studies related to suicide attempts have suggested that the prefrontal cortex of individuals who have engaged in suicidal behavior is different than those who have not.

The findings of the AFSP study indicate that levels of at least 100 miRNAs are lower in the PFC of people with MDD who died by suicide than people who died by other means. The next step is to determine if these differences are related to MDD, suicide or both. This information can be used to develop treatments for MDD and to reduce suicide risk.

Dr. Dwivedi is a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is a Scientific Advisor and member of AFSP’s Research Grants Committee. Click here to read more about Dr. Dwivedi's Standard Research Grant.

Published articles from this study:

  • Smalheiser NR, Lugli G, Rizavi HS, Torvik VI, Turecki G, Dwivedi Y. (2012) MicroRNA expression is down-regulated and reorganized in prefrontal cortex of depressed suicide subjects. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33201.