Sudden infant death syndrome: scientists found an anomaly that may be the cause

The death of a healthy infant before the age of one year is one of the most frightening and mysterious problems of medicine. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) remains unexplained even after careful investigation. Typically, death occurs in sleep. But now scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital have found an abnormality that may be related to SIDS – it is a failure of the serotonin receptor.

What is SVDS?

Sudden infant death syndrome is when the death of a healthy infant under one year of age remains unexplained even after careful investigation. Death usually occurs in sleep. If a doctor diagnoses SIDS as the cause of death, it is a surrender of medicine. In fact, it means: we just don’t know why a perfectly healthy child died. The syndrome is quite rare, but in the United States, for example, SVDS is the cause of death in 103 cases per 100,000 newborns per year.

Why do babies die from SVDS?

Doctors don’t know why SVDS occurs. In the 1990s, there was a national public health campaign in the United States in which doctors attributed SVDS to the sleep position: the most dangerous position is face down. But despite widespread advocacy for healthy sleep, the number of deaths from SVDS has not changed.

What have scientists found?

A team of scientists led by doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed tissue from infants who died of SVDS from 2004 to 2011. This included doctors analyzing brainstem cells from 70 infants who died during this period from various causes that were reliably diagnosed. Doctors tried to find the presence of at least some abnormalities in SVDS. And they found them.

The scientists found that the serotonin 2A/C receptor was altered in SVDS cases compared to control cases. Previous studies in rodents have shown that 2A/C receptor signaling normalizes the oxygen supply to the brain during sleep. Apparently, receptor malfunction under certain circumstances makes infants vulnerable.

How does SVDS occur?

Researchers believe that sudden infant death syndrome occurs when three things fatally converge: the child is in a critical period of cardiorespiratory development in the first year of life, the child encounters an external stressor such as a face-down sleeping position, and the child has a biological abnormality that makes them vulnerable to respiratory problems during sleep.

What do scientists say?

Lead author Robin Haynes says, “There is more work to be done to determine the consequences of abnormalities in this receptor in the context of the broader network of serotonin and non-serotonin receptors that protect vital cardiac and respiratory control functions. Currently, we have no means of identifying infants with biological abnormalities in the serotonergic system. Thus, adherence to safe sleep remains a critical and only recommendation.”

What to do to prevent SVDS?

Adherence to safe sleep practices is the only recommendation to prevent SVDS. Doctors recommend the following:

– Sleep on your back.
– Don’t smoke during pregnancy or after the baby is born
– Avoid overheating the baby
– Use a firm mattress and avoid soft pillows and blankets.

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