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Default mode dysfunction underpins suicidal activity in mood disorders

  • Gin S. Malhi (a1) (a2) (a3) (a4), Pritha Das (a1) (a2) (a3) (a4), Tim Outhred (a1) (a2) (a3) (a4), Richard A. Bryant (a5), Vince Calhoun (a6) (a7) and J. John Mann (a8) (a9)...



Suicide is a serious and not uncommon consequence of mood disorders that occurs primarily when individuals are depressed. Understanding the neurobiology of suicidal activity (thoughts or behaviors) is likely to facilitate prevention.


Seventy-nine adult depressed mood disorder patients (MDP), of which 25 had attempted suicide at least once, and 66 healthy controls (HC) participated in this study. Resting-state functional MRI was used to identify neural activity differences between suicide attempters (SA) and non-attempters (NA). Specifically, differences were examined in functional connectivity both within and between four large cognitive networks [Executive Control (ECN), Default Mode (DMN), Salience (SN), and Basal Ganglia (BGN)] and their respective associations with suicidal activity.


Compared to HCs, patients had greater posterior DMN activity, but less activity in the BGN, and less low-frequency spectral power in the dorso-medial DMN. Furthermore, increased posterior DMN activity in SA was associated with recent suicidal activity, whereas NA had reduced BGN activity and less dorso-medial DMN spectral power, the latter being associated with lifelong suicidal thinking. SA also had greater activity in midline circuitry compared to both HC and NA, and the pattern of BGN and DMN co-activity differed between SA and NA.


DMN engagement raises the possibility that suicidal activity in mood disorder patients may be a consequence of impaired self-referential thought processing. Furthermore, differential BGN and DMN co-activation according to suicide attempt status suggests that attempting suicide perhaps alters cognitive flexibility. These insights are potentially useful for understanding the neural basis of suicide activity.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Gin S. Malhi, E-mail:


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GSM and PD are equal first authors.



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Psychological Medicine
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