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Personality traits as intermediary phenotypes in suicidal behavior: Genetic issues


  • Patrick Baud

    Corresponding author
    • Service de Psychiatrie Adulte, Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève, 2 chemin du Petit Bel Air, 1225 Chêne Bourg, Suisse.
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    • Dr. Patrick Baud is a psychiatrist at the Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Geneva. Dr. Baud's work focuses on the clinical and molecular genetic risk factors for personality disorders (PDs).


A genetic contribution to the risk of suicidal behavior is now supported by many studies. It probably involves specific factors acting on their own, independently of the genetic transmission of associated psychiatric disorders. A history of childhood maltreatment, adverse events, psychosocial stress, psychological traits and major psychiatric disorders all appear to contribute to the global risk of suicide attempt or completion. The interplay between previously identified risk factors, different as they are in nature and degree of complexity, still remains to be clarified. A stress-diathesis model has been proposed, where trait-like genetic and developmental risk factors (the diathesis) interact through still unknown mechanisms with actual (stress-related) factors to create the conditions for a suicidal gesture. Disentangling the effects of these risk factors, and specifically the effects of the genetic factors influencing these different pathological conditions, appears to be a difficult task. Indeed the results of candidate gene association studies suggest that genetic vulnerability factors for various related psychiatric phenotypes (major psychiatric disorders and personality traits) partly overlap with more specific factors predisposing to suicidal behavior. Personality traits are partly under genetic control and may be closer to the genetic effects than psychiatric syndromes. We review here the available data on the genetics of personality traits presumably involved in suicidal behavior, focusing on the association studies carried out with serotonin-related genes. We suggest that future studies on the genetic vulnerability to suicidal behavior should include the investigation of endophenotypes, with the aim of deciphering the mechanisms underlying the genetic susceptibility to these closely associated phenotypes. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.