Suicide ranks among the leading causes of death around the world and takes a heavy emotional and public health toll on most societies. Both distal and proximal factors contribute to suicidal behaviour. Distal factors — such as familial and genetic predisposition, as well as early-life adversity — increase the lifetime risk of suicide. They alter responses to stress and other processes through epigenetic modification of genes and associated changes in gene expression, and through the regulation of emotional and behavioural traits. Proximal factors are associated with the precipitation of a suicidal event and include alterations in key neurotransmitter systems, inflammatory changes and glial dysfunction in the brain. This Review explores the key molecular changes that are associated with suicidality and discusses some promising avenues for future research.
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