Multiple Serotonergic Brainstem Abnormalities in SIDS

Multiple Serotonergic Brainstem Abnormalities in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Dr David Paterson and colleagues
Boston Children’s Hospital

This research was partly funded by the Trust, and we are delighted to be included in the positive outcomes. SIDs is the leading cause of postneonatal infant death in the United States, as well as in Scotland. While the cause remains unknown, previous research has suggested that abnormalities in the area of the brainstem that regulates breathing may play a role in SIDS.

The researchers analysed frozen samples of the medulla from 31 infants who died from SIDS and from 10 infants who died from causes other than SIDS. These samples were compared, and it was found that the abnormalities in SIDS infants were more extensive than previously suggested.

This study strengthens the hypothesis that brainstem dysfunction is associated with SIDS, and may lead to death by a failure of respiratory responses.

This study also found reduced receptor binding in male SIDS cases, as compared with female SIDS cases. This observation may help explain why males are more vulnerable to SIDS.

This study took place at a time when safe sleeping messages were well promoted and publicised, including messages about placing a baby on its back to sleep. Despite this, the majority (65 percent) of the SIDS cases in this data set were sleeping on their fronts or sides at the time of death, indicating the need for continued public health messages on safe sleeping practices. The researchers speculate that the increased risk of SIDS in the prone or face-down position may reflect the infants’ inability to respond to the challenge to breathe in the face-down position.