Low Serotonin Production A Likely Cause For SIDS
Taking the next step in more than 20 years of research, researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston have linked sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) with low production of serotonin in the brainstem, based on a comparison of brainstem samples from infants dying of SIDS compared to brainstems of infants dying from other, known causes.
The findings, published in the Feb. 3 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, may give a concrete approach to identifying babies at risk for SIDS, the leading cause of death for infants between 1 and 12 months old in the United States.
In the brainstem, serotonin helps regulate some of the body’s involuntary actions, such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure during sleep. The researchers, led by Children’s neuropathologist Hannah Kinney, MD, believe that a low serotonin level impairs the function of the brainstem circuits that regulate these activities, putting a baby at risk for sudden death from stresses such as rebreathing carbon dioxide when sleeping in the face down position.
The future goal of this work is to devise a test to identify infants with a serotonin brainstem defect early, and to develop preventive treatments that would correct the serotonin deficiency.
While this study provides strong evidence for a biological cause of SIDS, it also shows that other risk factors, such as sleeping on one’s stomach, can aggravate the risk. Of the SIDS infants in the current study, 95 percent died with at least one risk factor, and 88 percent died with at least two.
The next step in this research is to find out what causes abnormally low serotonin levels in the first place. Genetic variations may be partly responsible, says neuroscientist David Paterson, PhD, in Kinney’s lab, a contributing author of the paper. Kinney’s lab is searching for such variations. The CJ Foundation is also providing a grant to support Dr. Paterson’s work.
"What is also of significance", notes the CJ Foundation's Executive Director, Linda Tantawi, "is that by showing a presence of a SIDS risk factor in 95% of all cases in this study, this research underscores the need for parents and caregivers to be ever vigilant in implementing all safe sleep/SIDS risk-reduction practices. For parents who suffered the loss of a baby, perhaps this study, by finding strong evidence of an underlying biological cause of SIDS will give them peace of mind as well as hope that one day we will truly eliminate SIDS."
Video Link and article information