“…vulnerability to suicidal behavior can be defined in terms of a reduced motivational control over the intentional behavioral reaction to salient negative stimuli.”


The findings support the existence of a vulnerability to suicidal behavior and suggest a neuroanatomical basis for this diathesis. In summary, ALE meta-analyses of 12 studies identifies six regions in the brain that in association with a history of suicidal behavior are characterized by decreased volumes or changes in reactivity to emotional and cognitive stimuli. …The neurobiology of suicidal behavior along with depression may differ from that along with schizophrenia, but evidence of a shared underlying vulnerability is increasing (van Heeringen and Mann, 2014).

…recent research findings point at a converging function from a cognitive neuroscience point of view, i.e., the processing of negative emotions…The structures identified as structural correlates of the vulnerability to suicidal behavior appear to be particularly involved in the processing of the punishing aspect of salient events and may thus mediate in planning behavior on the basis of negative information.

The putative role of disturbed emotion processing, resulting in the aberrant salience of particular emotional stimuli, in the vulnerability to suicidal behavior is confirmed by the findings from the meta-analysis of functional imaging studies of suicidal behavior….Thus, the current findings suggest that the increased salience of particular negative stimuli and the inability to control maladaptive responses during cognitive processing due to structural deficits are two core characteristics of the vulnerability to suicidal behavior.

Further insight in the nature of the deficits in cognitive processing associated with a vulnerability to suicidal behavior is provided by findings from neuropsychological studies. A recent meta-analysis showed a particular role of deficits in decision-making, verbal fluency and Stroop interference in this respect …the stimulus that is target of the action in terms of specific reward expectations, thus determining the tendency to action, i.e., to approach or avoid the predictive stimulus. Delay is an important aspect of relevant information for determining reward expectation. While coding of short-term reward expectation occurs in conjunction with the ventral striatum-based reward system, the dorsal striatum including the caudate nucleus appears to be involved in predicting future reward (Tanaka et al., 2004, 2007; Onoda et al., 2011). The dorsal striatum and its connected cortical control network thus enact motivational control over intentional behavior (Harsay et al., 2011). In keeping with this line of reasoning, a reduced caudate volume was recently found associated with increased delay discounting in Parkinson patients (Szamosi et al., 2013). Given the well-documented involvement of serotonin disturbances in suicidal behavior (Mann, 2013), it is of importance to note that striatal reward prediction at different time scales is modulated by the central serotonergic system (Tanaka et al., 2007).

Taken together, the findings from meta-analyses of neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies thus suggest that the vulnerability to suicidal behavior can be defined in terms of a reduced motivational control over the intentional behavioral reaction to salient negative stimuli. The current meta-analyses have identified structural abnormalities that may represent the vulnerability trait factor, leading to functional changes that may represent the state factors. Further study is needed to confirm these findings and explore network and connectivity characteristics of identified changes in neural substrates, the causes of these changes, which may be genetic or acquired, and the effects of treatments such as antidepressants, rTMS, ketamine, and psychotherapy on structural and functional changes.


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