, Volume 114, Issue 4, pp 479-487
Date: 21 Sep 2006

Peripheral serotonergic markers in acutely suicidal patients. 1. Comparison of serotonergic platelet measures between suicidal individuals, nonsuicidal patients with major depression and healthy subjects

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Background. A robust association between “suicidality” and deficits of the serotoninergic neurotransmission has been claimed in the past. However, many studies having investigated the relationship between suicidality and peripheral indicators of serotoninergic neurotransmission suffer from considering only one or a very small number of potentially useful serotoninergic parameters, whereas a synoptic multidimensional approach appears to be more appropriate. Furthermore, the psychiatric context within which suicidal behaviour occurs should be considered when interpreting biochemical findings of patients with suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Methods. In the present study 5 peripheral serotonergic markers, (platelet 5HT concentration, 5HT uptake activity, 5HT2A receptor binding characteristics, MAO-B activity and tryptophan concentration in plasma) were assessed simultaneously. Of the 60 acutely suicidal inpatients (ICD-10: F43.xx, n = 52; F31/32/33, n = 8), 45 were suicide attempters. Data of 28 nonsuicidal patients with major depression (F31, n = 4; F32, n = 14; F33, n = 10) and 123 healthy volunteers represented the control groups.

Results. Mean platelet 5HT concentration was significantly lower in suicidal inpatients when compared to nonsuicidal depressed patients, but did not differ from the figure in healthy subjects. Nonsuicidal depressed patients showed significantly higher mean platelet-5HT concentration than healthy controls.

Mean Vmax of 5HT uptake in washed platelets, but not in platelet-rich plasma, was significantly higher in suicidal patients than in healthy controls, not, however, when compared to nonsuicidal depressed patients.

Mean KD for the platelet 5HT2A receptor and MAO-B activity were significantly lower in suicidal patients as compared to nonsuicidal depressed patients and healthy controls.

The observed differences in peripheral serotonergic markers between groups are partially due to a significant gender effect. A lower MAO-B activity was observed only in suicidal females, while the higher Vmax of 5HT uptake in washed platelets of suicidal patients was due to suicidal males.

Conclusions. In view of conflicting observations made by other authors and the present findings on suicidal patients with adjustment disorder it remains doubtful whether and if so to which extent platelet studies can provide valid information on serotonergic mechanisms related to suicidal behaviour.