Is there a neuroanatomical basis of the vulnerability to suicidal behavior? A coordinate-based meta-analysis of structural and functional MRI studies


van Heeringen, K, Bijttebier S, Desmyter S, Vervaet M, Baeken C

Objective: We conducted meta-analyses of functional and structural neuroimaging studies comparing adolescent and adult individuals with a history of suicidal behavior and a psychiatric disorder to psychiatric controls in order to objectify changes in brain structure and function in association with a vulnerability to suicidal behavior.

Methods: Magnetic resonance imaging studies published up to July 2013 investigating structural or functional brain correlates of suicidal behavior were identified through computerized and manual literature searches. Activation foci from 12 studies encompassing 475 individuals, i.e. 2013 suicide attempters and 262 psychiatric controls were subjected to meta-analytical study using anatomic or activation likelihood estimation (ALE).

Result: Activation likelihood estimation reealed structural deficits and functional changes in association with a history of suicidal behavior. Structural findings included reduced volumes of the rectal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus and caudate nucleus. Functional differences between study groups included an increased reactivity of the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices.

Discussion: A history of suicidal behavior appears to be associated with (probably interrelated) structural deficits and functional overactivation in brain areas, which contribute to a decision-making network. The findings suggest that a vulnerability to suicidal behavior can be defined in terms of a reduced motivational control over the intentional behavioral reaction to salient negative stimuli.