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Associations between Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors and Genetic Liability for Cognitive Performance, Depression, and Risk-Taking in a High-Risk Sample

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Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs) and nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) behaviors are moderately heritable and may reflect an underlying predisposition to depression, impulsivity, and cognitive vulnerabilities to varying degrees.


We aimed to estimate the degrees of association between genetic liability to depression, impulsivity, and cognitive performance and STBs and NSSI in a high-risk sample.


We used data on 7,482 individuals of European ancestry and 3,359 individuals of African ancestry from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism to examine the links between polygenic scores (PGSs) for depression, impulsivity/risk-taking, and cognitive performance with 3 self-reported indices of STBs (suicidal ideation, persistent suicidal ideation defined as ideation occurring on at least 7 consecutive days, and suicide attempt) and with NSSI.


The PGS for depression was significantly associated with all 4 primary self-harm measures, explaining 0.6-2.5% of the variance. The PGS for risk-taking behaviors was also associated with all 4 self-harm behaviors in baseline models, but was no longer associated after controlling for a lifetime measure of DSM-IV alcohol dependence and abuse symptom counts. Polygenic predisposition for cognitive performance was negatively associated with suicide attempts (q = 3.8e-4) but was not significantly associated with suicidal ideation nor NSSI. We did not find any significant associations in the African ancestry subset, likely due to smaller sample sizes.


Our results encourage the study of STB as transdiagnostic outcomes that show genetic overlap with a range of risk factors.

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