Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of infant mortality less than a year in developed countries. According to the Spanish Association of Pediatrics, it has an incidence of approximately 1 in 1,000 births in Spain.

Although the origin of this sudden death is a mystery to science and a tragedy to the families that suffer it, a new article published last Thursday in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology and carried out by Oxford University Press indicates that this syndrome can be associated in many cases with a brain stem abnormality that affects the serotonin receptors.

What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?

SIDS occurs when an apparently healthy baby dies suddenly, although it usually occurs while babies are sleeping.

Although the causes are unknown, it is known that it is more likely to occur between 2 and 4 months of age and affects boys more than girls. Furthermore, most SIDS deaths occur during the winter, because parents tend to shelter children excessively. There are also other factors that can increase the risk of suffering from it.

  • Sleeping on your stomach.

  • Sleeping with the parents.

  • Being part of a multiple birth.

  • Premature babies.

  • Family background.

  • Teenage mother.

  • Short time intervals between pregnancies.

  • Late or no prenatal care.

  • An environment with cigarette smoke while in utero or after birth.

  • Mothers who smoke, consume psychoactive substances or medications with a sedative effect during pregnancy.

  • Use of soft mattresses.

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Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego collected tissue samples from 58 babies died from SIDS between 2004 and 2011 and compared them with brain tissue samples from 12 babies who died of other causes. In this sense, the members of the investigation found that those who had the altered serotonin 2A/C receptor they were more likely to have SIDS compared to infants in the control group.

For his part, Robin Haynes, lead author of the study and a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that babies normally have a protective response that prompts them to gasp when they don’t get enough oxygen during sleep. “They wake up and go through what’s called ‘self-resuscitation,’ where they start to breathe,” he revealed. However, in those infants in whom the serotonin receptor is altered, this response may not activate making it difficult to restore your breathing and heart rate, which can hinder blood flow and oxygen delivery.

The Boston-based research group behind the new study has studied the relationship between SIDS and serotonin for about three decades and has published several papers based on various analyzes of the same brain tissue samples. “The work presented builds on a number of previous papers from our laboratory and others showing abnormalities in the serotonergic system of some SIDS infants,” revealed Robin Haynes, adding: “Although we have identified abnormalities in the serotonin 2A receptor /C in SIDS, the relationship between the abnormalities and the cause of death is still unknown. Much work remains to be done to determine the consequences of abnormalities in this receptor.”

In that sense, although there are no tests to reveal if a baby has an underlying predisposition to SIDS, and since the causes and consequences of this abnormality have not been confirmed, there are no treatments to reduce the risk of suffering from this syndrome. However, Haynes confessed that the investigators have not given up on that possibility. “Once a baby is identified with a particular abnormality, the goal is one day to have preventative therapy,” she concluded.

By Editor

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