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Keywords:

  • BDNF;
  • childhood trauma;
  • gene–environment interaction;
  • sexual abuse;
  • suicide attempts;
  • Val66Met

Genetic factors, specially those related to serotoninergic activities, and childhood maltreatment have both been implicated in suicidal behaviour (SB). However, little attention has been paid to the possible interaction between genes and childhood maltreatment in the comprehension of SB. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in the growth of serotoninergic neurons during childhood and therefore is a good candidate for studies on SB. Moreover, decreased levels of BDNF have been found in the prefrontal cortex of suicide victims. In our study we wanted to see if Val66Met (a BDNF functional single-nucleotide polymorphism) could moderate the effect of childhood maltreatment on the onset, number and violence of SB in a sample of 813 Caucasian suicide attempters. Childhood maltreatment was evaluated using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. We used a regression framework to test the interaction between Val66Met and childhood maltreatment. Childhood sexual abuse was associated with violent suicide attempts (SA) in adulthood only among Val/Val individuals and not among Val/Met or Met/Met individuals (P = 0.05). The severity of childhood maltreatment was significantly associated with a higher number of SA and with a younger age at onset of suicide attempt. This result suggests that Val66Met modulates the effect of childhood sexual abuse on the violence of SB. It is proposed that childhood sexual abuse elicits brain structural modifications through BDNF dysfunction and enhances the risk of violent SB in adulthood.