Brain-Stem Abnormalities Linked to SIDS

Vital new research has found a connection between sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and defects in the victim’s brain stem. A new study in the November 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that a significant portion of SIDS cases result from deficiencies with the baby’s serotonin system. While these imbalances cannot be identified until after death, the study’s findings may be instrumental in developing a diagnostic test that could potentially identify high-risk infants.

Researchers have focused on the medulla oblongata, the portion of the brain that connects to the spinal cord and helps to regulate breathing and circulation. They found that deficiencies in an infant’s serotonin receptors may prevent the brain from identifying and responding to important “signals” related to problems with breathing and circulation. Put another way, the baby’s “defense system” may be compromised by deficiencies in the serotonin system.

The new research is reason for optimism since very little is known about SIDS, which is responsible for roughly 2,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. For many, SIDS is considered a “random” and unpreventable event, but the new findings have taken some of the mystery out of the equation. The study examined autopsy samples from 31 California infants who died from SIDS and compared them with a control group of 10 infants who’d died from other causes.

To prevent against a faulty defense system in infants, parents have for some time been urged to put their babies to bed on their backs to reduce the possibility of respiratory complications. Around two-thirds of the SIDS infants studied had been sleeping on their sides or bellies when they died.

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