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Mu opioid receptors have previously been shown to be altered in people with affective disorders who died as a result of suicide. We wished to determine whether these changes were more widespread and independent of psychiatric diagnoses.
Mu receptor levels were determined using [3H]DAMGO binding in BA24 from 51 control subjects; 38 people with schizophrenia (12 suicides); 20 people with major depressive disorder (15 suicides); 13 people with bipolar disorder (5 suicides) and 9 people who had no history of psychiatric disorders but who died as a result of suicide. Mu receptor levels were further determined in BA9 and caudate-putamen from 38 people with schizophrenia and 20 control subjects using [3H]DAMGO binding and, in all three regions, using Western blots. Data was analysed using one-way ANOVAs with Bonferroni’s Multiple Comparison Test or, where data either didn’t approximate to a binomial distribution or the sample size was too small to determine distribution, a Kruskal-Wallis test with Dunn’s Multiple Comparison Test.
[3H]DAMGO binding density was lower in people who had died as a result of suicide (p<0.01). People with schizophrenia who had died as a result of suicide had lower binding than control subjects (p<0.001), whilst people with bipolar disorder (non- suicide) had higher levels of binding (p<0.05). [3H]DAMGO binding densities, but not mu protein levels, were significantly decreased in BA9 from people with schizophrenia who died as a result of suicide (p<0.01).
Overall these data suggest that mu opioid receptor availability is decreased in the brains of people with schizophrenia who died as a result of suicide, which would be consistent with increased levels of endogenous ligands occupying these receptors.