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Keywords:

  • suicide;
  • twins;
  • behavioral genetics

Abstract

Thoughts of self-harm and suicidal behavior are thought to be influenced by both genetics and environment. Molecular genetic studies are beginning to address the question of which genes may be involved and whether different genes may be expressed in men and women. We examined thoughts of self-harm and suicidal behavior in a large general population twin sample including male and female same- and opposite-sex twins. In this study, data on self-reported thoughts of self-harm and suicide were obtained from self-report questionnaires (Beck Depression Inventory and Youth or Adult Self Report forms) in 6,265 twin pairs (11,008 individuals) aged 11–90 (62% female) from the Netherlands Twin Registry. Liability threshold models were compared including sex and age (linear and quadratic) effects. Models were compared using measures of parsimony to calculate the simplest model to the data. A model with additive genetic and unique environmental contributions fitted the data for both males and females. There were no qualitative sex differences, but the relative contributions differed between men and women. Heritability was higher in women (0.74, 95% CI 0.65–0.81) than men (0.45, 95% CI 0.28–0.61). The remaining variance was accounted for by environmental influence unique to an individual. These results suggest contributions from additive genetic factors to self-reported thoughts of self-harm and suicide and support the continued study of both molecular genetic and individual-specific environmental risk factors. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.