Background: Major depression and suicide are associated with fewer serotonin transporter (5-HTT) sites. The 5'-flanking promoter region of the 5-HTT gene has a biallelic insertion/deletion (5-HTTLPR). We assayed prefrontal cortical (PFC) 5-HTT binding in major depression and suicide and examine the relationship to the 5-HTTLPR allele.
Methods: Postmortem brain samples from 220 individuals were genotyped for the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism. Binding of 5-HTT was assayed by quantitative autoradiography in the PFC of a subset of subjects (n = 159). Clinical information, including DSM-III-R Axis I diagnoses, was obtained by psychological autopsy and medical chart review.
Results: Binding to 5-HTT was lower in the ventral PFC of suicides compared with nonsuicides and was lower throughout the PFC of subjects with a history of major depression. The 5-HTTLPR genotype was associated with major depression but not with suicide or 5-HTT binding.
Conclusions: A diffuse reduction of 5-HTT binding in the PFC of individuals with major depression may reflect a widespread impairment of serotonergic function consistent with the range of psychopathologic features in major depression. The localized reduction in 5-HTT binding in the ventral PFC of suicides may reflect reduced serotonin input to that brain region, underlying the predisposition to act on suicidal thoughts. The 5-HTTLPR genotype was not related to the level of 5-HTT binding and does not explain why 5-HTT binding is lower in major depression or suicide. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2000;57:729-738