Lena Brundin Every Thursday, Laboratory Equipment features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is Lena Brundin from Michigan State Univ. She and a team found that a chemical in the brain called glutamate is linked to suicidal behavior, offering new hope for efforts to prevent people from taking their own lives.

Q: What made you interested in studying how brain chemicals were linked to suicidal behavior?

A: I work as a psychiatrist and many patients described that they feel worse when they have infections. That led me into thinking inflammation could have some impact on the brain, leading to depression and [suicidal thoughts]. Other researchers have also seen that connection and now actually a lot of research is going on in the area of how inflammation can affect our mood.

Q: What are the future implications of your research and findings?

A: I hope that new medications will be developed that can help patients with depression and suicidality. Many patients feel that they do not get enough help from the medications available today, so there is certainly a need for novel drugs. 

Q: What was the most surprising thing you found in your research?

A: I was surprised to see that the levels of quinolinic acid that we measured were so high. They were more than twice as high in patients that in the healthy controls. It is not so often you see large differences like that in patients.

Q: What is the take home message of your research and results?

A: That inflammation is of importance for how we feel when it comes to sadness and feelings of not wanting to live. If we can find the source of inflammation and treat it, there is a chance a lot of patients will feel better.

Q: What new technologies did you use in your lab during your research?

A: We used mass spectroscopy to measure quinolinic acid, and the mesoscale technologies to measure cytokine levels.

Q: What is next for you and your research?

A: I am looking for the source of inflammation (is it stress? Infection?) and trying to design clinical trials testing new medications for depression and suicidality. I am also interested in if certain genes may render some families more susceptible to inflammation induced depression.