J Affect Disord. 2000 Nov;60(3):181-9.

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Cortisol in violent suicidal behaviour: association with personality and monoaminergic activity.

van Heeringen K, Audenaert K, Van de Wiele L, Verstraete A.

Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital Gent, De Pintelaan 185, B-9000, Gent, Belgium. cornelis.vanheeringen@rug.ac.be

BACKGROUND: According to recent theories, suicidal behaviour is associated with depressive disorders that are commonly induced by social stressors in persons with a trait-dependent vulnerability. Stressor-induced increased cortisol secretion may interfere with this vulnerability that can be defined in terms of (possibly inter-related) biological and psychological or personality-related characteristics. Delineation of such trait-like characteristics may increase the specificity in the prediction of suicidal behaviour and thus lead to new approaches to the treatment and prevention of suicidal behaviour. METHODS: Psychiatric symptomatology, personality dimensions (Cloninger's Temperament and Character), peripheral markers of serotonergic (whole blood serotonin, platelet MAO activity) and noradrenergic (plasma MHPG) activity, and urinary cortisol were measured in a random sample of patients with a history of violent suicidal behaviour and compared to those of patients without such a history. RESULTS: When compared to patients without a history of violent suicidal behaviour (n=23), patients with such a history (n=17) were characterised by higher urinary cortisol levels, a significantly lower mean score on Reward Dependence, a borderline significantly increased score on Novelty Seeking and a significantly lower mean plasma MHPG level. Urinary cortisol level correlated significantly with Reward Dependence and Novelty Seeking scores. There were no differences between patient groups regarding severity of anxiety or depressive symptomatology. No differences with regard to the biological parameters were found between patients who recently attempted suicide and those with a history of suicidal behaviour. LIMITATIONS: Limitations of this study included a relatively small number of study subjects and the use of peripheral markers to assess central neurotransmission functions. CONCLUSIONS: Violent suicidal behaviour is associated with increased cortisol secretion, a personality profile defined by low Reward Dependence (reflecting the degree of sensitivity to social stressors) and a tendency of increased Novelty Seeking (related to impulsivity and the regulation of anger), and reduced noradrenergic functioning (possibly reflecting an inability to adapt to stressors).