Previously, studies have demonstrated cortical impairments in those who complete or attempt suicide. Subcortical nuclei have less often been implicated in the suicidal vulnerability. In the present study, we investigated, with a specific design in a large population, variations in the volume of subcortical structures in patients with mood disorders who have attempted suicide. We recruited 253 participants: 73 suicide attempters with a past history of both mood disorders and suicidal act, 89 patient controls with a past history of mood disorders but no history of suicidal act, and 91 healthy controls. We collected 1.5 T magnetic resonance imaging data from the caudate, pallidum, putamen, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, amygdala, ventral diencephalon, and thalamus. Surface-based morphometry (Freesurfer) analysis was used to comprehensively evaluate gray matter volumes. In comparison to controls, suicide attempters showed no difference in subcortical volumes when controlled for intracranial volume. However, within attempters negative correlations between the left (r = -0.35, p = 0.002), and right (r = -0.41, p < 0.0005) nucleus accumbens volumes and the lethality of the last suicidal act were found. Our study found no differences in the volume of eight subcortical nuclei between suicide attempters and controls, suggesting a lack of association between these regions and suicidal behavior in general. However, individual variations in nucleus accumbens structure and functioning may modulate the lethality of suicidal acts during a suicidal crisis. The known role of nucleus accumbens in action selection toward goals determined by the prefrontal cortex, decision-making or mental pain processing are hypothesized to be potential explanations.
Keywords: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); Markers; Mood disorders; Neuroimaging; Subcortical structures; Suicidal behaviors; Surface-based morphometry (SBM).