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Original Research

Serum Fatty Acid Latent Classes Are Associated With Suicide in a Large Military Personnel Sample

Arthur Thomas Ryan, PhDa,b,c,*; Teodor T. Postolache, MDa,b,d; Daniel Dennis Taub, PhDe; Holly C. Wilcox, PhDf,g; Marjan Ghahramanlou-Holloway, PhDh; John C. Umhau, MDi,j; and Patricia A. Deuster, PhD, MPHk

Published: February 23, 2021


Objective: Fatty acids (FAs) are involved in the functioning of biological systems previously associated with suicidal behavior (eg, monoamine signaling and the immune system). We sought to determine (1) whether observed FA levels in a sample of military suicide decedents and living matched controls were consistent with latent classes having distinctive FA profiles and (2) whether those latent classes were associated with suicide and mental health diagnoses.

Methods: Serum samples from 800 US military suicide decedents who died between 2002 and 2008 and 800 demographically matched living controls were selected at random from a large military serum repository and assayed for 22 different FAs. A latent class cluster analysis was performed using values of 6 FAs previously individually associated with suicide. Once the latent classes were identified, they were compared in terms of suicide decedent proportion, demographic variables, estimated FA enzyme activity, diagnoses, and mental health care usage.

Results: A 6–latent class solution best characterized the dataset. Suicide decedents were less likely to belong to 2 of the classes and more likely to belong to 3 of the classes. The low-decedent classes differed from the high-decedent classes on 9 FAs and on estimated indices of activity for 3 FA enzymes: 14:0, 24:0, 18:1 n-9, 24:1 n-9, 22:5 n-3, 22:6 n-3, 20:2 n-6, 20:4 n-6, 22:5 n-6, elongation of very long chain fatty acids protein 1 (ELOVL1), ELOVL6, and Δ9 desaturase. The FA profiles of the latent classes were consistent with biological abnormalities previously associated with suicidal behavior.

Conclusions: This study suggests the utility of methods that simultaneously examine multiple FAs when trying to understand their relationship with suicide and psychiatric illness.


Volume: 82

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