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SIDS RESEARCH BREAKTHROUGH
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.
In addition to these research findings, the Kansas Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality announces interim recommendations to
reduce infant mortality in Kansas. The Blue Ribbon Panel will hold a news conference Wednesday, February 3 at 1 p.m. at the
State Capitol, 300 SW 10th, Room 546-S, to announce interim recommendations for addressing Kansas’ high infant mortality rate.
The Panel was formed in June 2009 to review the infant mortality problem in Kansas and deliver recommendations to the Secretary
of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) through the Governor’s Child Health Advisory Committee. The Panel
consists of 22 members who have a broad range of expertise related to maternal, infant and child health. Speakers at the news
conference will include KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby; Senator Jim Barnett, MD; and Dennis Cooley, MD, Chairman of the Blue
Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality and President of the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.