Linking Brain Function to Suicide Risk in Adolescents – School of Public Health
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States and often preceded by episodes of depression. A new study co-led by the School of Public Health examines the emergence of depression and suicide risk in thousands of adolescents and its link to the behavior of specific regions of the brain over time.
“The role of the developing brain in changing the risk of depression and suicide has never been examined on this scale,” says Fiecas.
University researchers Monica Luciana (psychology), Bonnie Klimes-Dougan (psychology) and Bryon Mueller (psychiatry) join Fiecas and Cullen in the study team. Conner Falke, PhD student at SPH, is also contributing to the project. Computer support will be provided by the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute.
Data for research will come from Cognitive development of the adolescent brain (ABCD) Study, which is the largest long-term study of brain development in the United States. The ABCD study began by evaluating more than 10,000 children aged 9-10 years using clinical assessments, neuroimaging and other types of assessments, and will follow this cohort into adulthood. . The University of Minnesota is one of 21 research sites for this study.
Fiecas and the team are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data to study three key brain regions or “networks”:
- The fronto-limbic network: the regulation of emotions.
- The cortico-striatal network: professional development.
- The network in default mode: spontaneous thoughts, self-referential thinking and rumination.
The fMRI data will be used to measure the strengths of connections within brain networks as well as their flexibility, i.e. how the strength of the network changes over time and the regularity and predictability of brain signals. Details about brain network function will then be matched against participants’ health data to see how this relates to their development of depression and suicide risk.
“Our results will be useful to researchers in many disciplines, from psychology and psychiatry to public health, informatics and statistics,” says Fiecas.
One of the challenges of conducting research is learning to use the ABCD study’s large database of information.
“The methodological strategies and computer software that we develop to use the data will be of interest to other researchers who are also working with the ABCD study or other large-scale studies involving the human brain,” says Fiecas. “This software will be made open-source so that it is easily accessible and used by other researchers.”
Fiecas said the results of the studies will be available from the end of this year and shared in scientific journals and at scientific conferences.
Funding for the study is provided by the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health.