Positron emission tomography quantification of serotonin transporter in suicide attempters with major depressive disorder

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Aug 15;74(4):287-95. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.01.024. Epub 2013 Mar 1.


Background: Several lines of evidence implicate abnormal serotonergic function in suicidal behavior and completed suicide, including low serotonin transporter binding in postmortem studies of completed suicide. We have also reported low in vivo serotonin transporter binding in major depressive disorder (MDD) during a major depressive episode using positron emission tomography (PET) with [(11)C]McN5652. We quantified regional brain serotonin transporter binding in vivo in depressed suicide attempters, depressed nonattempters, and healthy controls using PET and a superior radiotracer, [(11)C]DASB.

Methods: Fifty-one subjects with DSM-IV current MDD, 15 of whom were past suicide attempters, and 32 healthy control subjects underwent PET scanning with [(11)C]DASB to quantify in vivo regional brain serotonin transporter binding. Metabolite-corrected arterial input functions and plasma free-fraction were acquired to improve quantification.

Results: Depressed suicide attempters had lower serotonin transporter binding in midbrain compared with depressed nonattempters (p = .031) and control subjects (p = .0093). There was no difference in serotonin transporter binding comparing all depressed subjects with healthy control subjects considering six a priori regions of interest simultaneously (p = .41).

Conclusions: Low midbrain serotonin transporter binding appears to be related to the pathophysiology of suicidal behavior rather than of major depressive disorder. This is consistent with postmortem work showing low midbrain serotonin transporter binding capacity in depressed suicides and may partially explain discrepant in vivo findings quantifying serotonin transporter in depression. Future studies should investigate midbrain serotonin transporter binding as a predictor of suicidal behavior in MDD and determine the cause of low binding.

Keywords: PET; [(11)C]DASB; depression; midbrain; pathophysiology; serotonin transporter; suicide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / analysis*
  • Suicide, Attempted*


  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins