Increased plasma levels of circulating cell-free mitochondrial DNA in suicide attempters: Associations with HPA-axis hyperactivity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Preclinical data suggest that chronic stress may cause cellular damage and mitochondrial dysfunction, potentially leading to the release of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) into the bloodstream. Major depressive disorder has been associated with an increased amount of mtDNA in leukocytes from saliva samples and blood; however, no previous studies have measured plasma levels of free-circulating mtDNA in a clinical psychiatric sample. In this study, free circulating mtDNA was quantified in plasma samples from 37 suicide attempters, who had undergone a dexamethasone suppression test (DST), and 37 healthy controls. We hypothesized that free circulating mtDNA would be elevated in the suicide attempters and would be associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis hyperactivity. Suicide attempters had significantly higher plasma levels of free-circulating mtDNA compared with healthy controls at different time points (pre- and post-DST; all P-values<2.98E-12, Cohen's d ranging from 2.55 to 4.01). Pre-DST plasma levels of mtDNA were positively correlated with post-DST cortisol levels (rho=0.49, P<0.003). Suicide attempters may have elevated plasma levels of free-circulating mtDNA, which are related to impaired HPA-axis negative feedback. This peripheral index is consistent with an increased cellular or mitochondrial damage. The specific cells and tissues contributing to plasma levels of free-circulating mtDNA are not known, as is the specificity of this finding for suicide attempters. Future studies are needed in order to better understand the relevance of increased free-circulating mtDNA in relation to the pathophysiology underlying suicidal behavior and depression.


External organisations
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • Skåne University Hospital
  • Malmö University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychiatry
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere971
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec 6
Publication categoryResearch

Related projects

Johan Fernström, Daniel Lindqvist, Åsa Westrin & Lars Ohlsson


Project: Dissertation

View all (2)

Related activities

Lindqvist, D. (First/primary/lead supervisor)

Activity: Examination and supervisionSupervision of PhD students

View all (1)