Suicide and the Human Brain

What changes in the brains of people who commit or think about committing suicide? PhD candidate Lin Zhang investigated at a molecular level the processes that take place in the human brain during suicide. The hope is that her findings could be the first step towards a drug or therapy intervention which could help people with suicidal thoughts. Zhang will defend her theses at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on Wednesday, October 25. More than 700,000 people die by suicide every year. Among the most common causes in Western countries are psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. Zhang used brains donated to science to help her examine various aspects of the molecular changes that occur in the brain during suicide. “I looked for certain markers – substances – produced by the brain,” Zhang says. “One of my conclusions is that the neurobiological processes that take place in our brain during suicide and during depression are different. And my research also shows that suicidal thoughts and depression take place in different parts of the brain. Genes related to suicide can therefore be linked to a specific part of the brain.”

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