The role of prefrontal cortical surface area and volume in preclinical suicidal ideation in a non-clinical sample

Sahil Bajaj, Adam C. Raikes, Ryan Smith, John R. Vanuk, William D.S. Killgore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Suicidal ideation (SUI) can occur in the absence of concomitant psychiatric diagnoses, and even normal levels can be problematic among individuals experiencing excess stress or lack of social support. The objective of this study was to investigate the neuroanatomical basis of SUI in non-clinical human populations who are within the normal limits of SUI, after accounting for elevated stress and perceived lack of social support. Neuroanatomical data were collected from 55 healthy individuals (mean age 30.9 ± 8.1 years, 27 females) whose depression severity levels were below the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria. Measures of SUI, aggression, stress, non-support, and treatment rejection were collected from the treatment-consideration scales (TCS) of the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI). Correlations between standardized SUI scores and three brain morphometry measures, including vertex wise cortical thickness (CT), cortical surface area (CSA), and cortical volume (CV), were estimated for each participant, controlling for age, sex, intracranial volume, and the remaining TCS measures. We observed a significant negative association between scores on SUI and both CSA and CV (cluster-forming threshold of p < 0.005, clusterwise threshold of p < 0.05, FDR corrected for multiple comparisons) within the left rostral middle frontal gyrus. Our findings suggest that greater CSA and CV within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are associated with reduced SUI in a non-clinical population with mild levels of stress and perceived lack of social support. Because the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex has been broadly linked to cognitive reappraisal, self-critical thoughts, and emotional regulation, greater CSA and CV within these regions may lead to better mental health by protecting healthy individuals from engaging in SUI during periods of stress and perceived insufficient social support. As our data consisted of only healthy individuals with non-clinical levels of SUI, further investigation will be necessary to explore the neural basis of SUI in populations who may be at greater risk of future suicidal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number445
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Cortical structure
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Personality assessment
  • Social support
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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