This article reviews neuroimaging studies on neural circuitry associated with suicide-related thoughts and behaviors to identify areas of convergence in findings. Gaps in the literature for which additional research is needed are identified.
A PubMed search was conducted and articles published before March 2014 were reviewed that compared individuals who made suicide attempts to those with similar diagnoses who had not made attempts or to healthy comparison subjects. Articles on adults with suicidal ideation and adolescents who had made attempts, or with suicidal ideation, were also included. Reviewed imaging modalities included structural magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, single photon emission computed tomography, positron emission tomography, and functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Although many studies include small samples, and subject characteristics and imaging methods vary across studies, there were convergent findings involving the structure and function of frontal neural systems and the serotonergic system.
These initial neuroimaging studies of suicide behavior have provided promising results. Future neuroimaging efforts could be strengthened by more strategic use of common data elements and a focus on suicide risk trajectories. At-risk subgroups defined by biopsychosocial risk factors and multidimensional assessment of suicidal thoughts and behaviors may provide a clearer picture of the neural circuitry associated with risk status—both current and lifetime. Also needed are studies investigating neural changes associated with interventions that are effective in risk reduction.
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