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Source-based morphometry reveals gray matter differences related to suicidal behavior in criminal offenders

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Relative to the general population, criminal offenders have a higher risk of suicide. Neurobiological deficits related to suicidal behavior have been identified in the general population, but unexamined in offenders to date. We examined the association between brain morphology and suicidal behavior in adult male criminal offenders. Brain morphology was examined using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and source-based morphometry (SBM), a multivariate alternative to VBM which analyzes brain volume in between-subject spatially independent networks. Results showed that offenders with past suicide attempts (n = 19), relative to offenders without past suicide attempts (n = 19) and non-offenders (n = 26), had reduced gray matter in an SBM component that comprised the posterior cingulate, dorsal prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. The SBM source weights were significantly associated with suicide attempts independent of other suicide risk variables (e.g., depression). VBM results were similar to the SBM results but less robust. The results reveal a potential neurobiological marker of vulnerability to suicidal behavior among criminal offenders and illustrate the utility of multivariate methods of gray matter analyses.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Drug use disorder could not be analyzed due to (quasi) separation: nearly all participants (n = 34) met criteria for a drug use disorder. C29 loading weights were not significantly different between offenders with and without a drug use disorder (t(36) = 1.44, p = 0.16)


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This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (P20GM103472; R01DA026505; R01MH070539).

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Correspondence to Carla L. Harenski.

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Harenski, C.L., Harenski, K.A., Calhoun, V.D. et al. Source-based morphometry reveals gray matter differences related to suicidal behavior in criminal offenders. Brain Imaging and Behavior 14, 1–9 (2020).

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  • Suicide
  • Criminal
  • Neuroimaging
  • Gray matter
  • Posterior cingulate