WASHINGTON, January 29, 2013–A December 13, 2013 Boston Hospital press release claims infants that suffer sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the name given to a condition or series of conditions that causes sudden death in infants, have brain stem abnormalities regardless of environment.
A report in Pediatrics cites research by an investigative team led by Hannah Kinney, MD, as claiming over the last two decades that victims of SIDS demonstrate a difference in brain stem chemistry consistent with infant death that is unrelated to other causes. Such abnormalities impair the brain stem circuits that assist with heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and body temperature during sleep.
These same abnormalities prevent infants from rousing after re-breathing too much carbon dioxide due to inadequate ventilation and overheating arising from over bundling. Reduced ventilation and over bundling usually occurs as mothers fear their infants will catch a breeze or be too cold in lower temperatures.
Neurochemical abnormalities in infant brain stems involve the hormone serotonin, serotonin receptors, GABA receptors and a protein that regulates serotonin. Researchers found that even the infants that died of environmental issues still had brain stem abnormalities.
The findings at Boston Hospital do not negate the fact some infants perish from poor sleeping environments, even without brain stem issues. However, the evidence of brain stem issues was collected over a 20-year period and dovetails with previous findings at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
A 2010 report from NIH concluded that SIDS victims have levels of serotonin that are 26 percent lower than normal. The measurements were made accessing the medulla in the brain. This research is significant because port-mortem procedures on infants under the age of one cannot confirm SIDS as causation of death.
NIH funded the Boston study and reviewed the results. It found earlier NIH research had been a launch pad for furthering serotonin related SIDS and that “sleep unmasks the brain defect,” according to Dr. Kinney.
Dr. Kinney went on to emphasize other factors, such as sleep position recommendations publicized in 1994, which reduced SIDS by 50 percent, and not smoking around infants, as significant improvements.
Regardless of new findings, sleep positioning in well-ventilated rooms devoid of smoke and loose bundling are still important factors to reduce the possibility of SIDS.