Genetic Investigation of Suicide Attempt and Suicide - GISS

GISS is a research project exploring if suicide is genetic and which genes are involved.

Twin studies have shown a heritability rate of 30-55% in suicide. No specific genetic factors have yet been definitively established for suicide, and most preliminary associations so far appear to be indirect and "transdiagnostic" (i.e., they also influence other somatic and/or mental health issues such as neuropsychiatric symptoms). It is important to understand that genetics and the environment always interact throughout life, and that all possible forms of environmental and care interventions are always needed to alleviate the suffering of suicidal individuals.

About GISS

The GISS project, conducted at NASP, aims to contribute with specific knowledge in the field of genetics and suicide, by studying a unique database consisting of 660 intact families (so-called "trios") in which young adult children have committed medically serious suicide attempts, as well as 519 non-suicidal and generally healthy volunteer control subjects. Information on DNA and psychometric data is available for all individuals involved, and the family structure allows for more reliable statistical inheritance analyses. Results from GISS are also integrated into larger collaborative projects ("meta-analyses") within the International Suicide Genetics Consortium, which is part of the "Psychiatric Genomics Consortium". Furthermore, the scientific literature in this field is monitored and analysed for emerging findings.


Family, adoption, and twin studies have shown that there are genetic components involved in suicidal behaviors, including suicide as a cause of death, as well as in certain comorbid conditions and psychiatric diagnoses. Although the role of specific genetic factors in suicide is still unclear, genetic components may be involved in general, as twin studies have demonstrated heritability rates of 30-55% (for example Genetics of suicide: a systematic review of twin studies. Voracek M, Loibl LM Wien Klin Wochenschr 2007 ;119(15-16):463-75). However, as with conditions such as schizophrenia (approximately 80% heritability), which is the most extensively genetically studied psychiatric diagnosis and also exhibits an increased risk of suicide, much indicates that the genetic risk is likely to be predominantly "polygenic." This means that there are many different combinations of possible genetic and environmental factors that may be involved on a case-by-case basis. In rarer cases, there may be a more "monogenic" effect, where individual and rare genetic mutations contribute more unilaterally to psychological outcomes in adulthood. For the latter case, it is also the case that specific known genetic mutations cause >6000 rare diseases, which together are estimated to affect up to 6% of the population (Estimating cumulative point prevalence of rare diseases: analysis of the Orphanet database. Nguengang Wakap S, Lambert DM, Olry A, Rodwell C, Gueydan C, Lanneau V, Murphy D, Le Cam Y, Rath A Eur J Hum Genet 2020 Feb;28(2):165-173). These individuals often face a deficit in healthcare and exhibit a high degree of mental distress and suicidal ideation (Mental health care for rare disease in the UK - recommendations from a quantitative survey and multi-stakeholder workshop. Spencer-Tansley R, Meade N, Ali F, Simpson A, Hunter A BMC Health Serv Res 2022 May;22(1):648 and Sweden, Rare Disease Day).

Chosen publications

Dissecting the Shared Genetic Architecture of Suicide Attempt, Psychiatric Disorders, and Known Risk Factors. International Suicide Genetics Consortium. Biol Psychiatry. 2022 Feb 1;91(3):313-327.

A candidate biological network formed by genes from genomic and hypothesis-free scans of suicide.  Sokolowski M & Wasserman D. Prev Med. 2021 Nov;152(Pt 1):106604.

Genetic origins of suicidality? A synopsis of genes in suicidal behaviours, with regard to evidence diversity, disorder specificity and neurodevelopmental brain transcriptomics. Sokolowski M & Wasserman D. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2020 Aug;37:1-11.

Polygenic associations of neurodevelopmental genes in suicide attempt. Sokolowski M, Wasserman J, Wasserman D. Mol. Psychiatry 2016 10;21(10):1381-90.


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Marcus Sokolowski

Adjunct Lecturer
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