According to a study published Wednesday in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal, four key genetic variants are more common in military veterans who have died or are considered dead.

Scientists at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, analyzed blood samples from a database of 633,778 US veterans and found this pattern in more than 549,000 individuals with reference to the International Suicidality Genetics Consortium.

The resulting samples were compared to the participants’ medical records and sequenced to create genetic profiles, which documented 121,211 suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.

After initially identifying more than 200 risk factors, the genes ESR1, DRD2, DCC and TRAF3 were most prevalent in that group of veterans. In particular, ESR1 encodes estrogen receptors, and DRD2 is associated with several mood disorders.

But researchers have found that genes previously linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and schizophrenia do not predispose anyone to problems in the future, GenomeWeb reports.

“While genes account for a small amount of risk relative to other factors, we need to better understand the biological pathways that increase a person’s risk of engaging in suicidal behavior,” said Duke study contributor and professor Dr. Nathan Kimbrell.

The more we know, the more we can prevent these tragic deaths.

Race-specific results also yielded interesting results. Seven loci were found to be unique to European participants, one locus each in the black and Hispanic cohorts and none for the Asian-ethnicity cohort.

Still, Kimbrell emphasizes that more work needs to be done in the field before any real changes in clinical care can be made.

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