New SIDS clue found
Babies who die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) appear to have low levels of a chemical in their brains that plays a crucial role in regulating breathing, heart rate and sleep, according to a new federally-funded study.
SIDS is a devastating syndrome that has long baffled researchers. It involves the death of an infant before his or her first birthday that cannot be explained. It claims more than 2,300 babies each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
For the new study, Hanna Kinney of the Harvard Medical School in Boston and her colleagues examined tissue samples from the brains of 35 babies who died from SIDS and 10 babies who died from other known causes. The tissue came from a part of the brain known as the medullla, which regulates basic functions such as body temperature, breathing, blood pressure and heart rate.
In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers reported that the babies who died from SIDS had 26 pecent lower levels of the brain chemical serotonin, as well as 22 percent lower levels of a substance called tryptophan hydroxylase, an enzyme needed to make serotonin. Serotonin has a variety of functions in the brain, including helping regulate breathing, heart rate and blood pressure during sleep.
The findings suggest that SIDS occurs when babies born with this abnormality are placed face-down to sleep during their first year of life. Their ability to stabilize their breathing is still developing. Most children would be able to move their faces or heads and wake up if they were having trouble breathing face down. But babies born with this intrinsic abnormality may be unable to respond properly.
Researchers have long known that placing infants to sleep on their backs could significantly reduce the risk for SIDS. A national campaign to educate parents about avoiding putting their babies to sleep on the stomachs has reduced the SIDS rate.
The researchers hope the new findings will enable them to develop a test to identify newborns at greatest risk for SIDS and reduce the toll from the syndrome even further..
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