Scientists may have found cause for sudden infant death syndrome

Science and Health

Scientists have identified new potential causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), in a new study published on Thursday.

The peer-reviewed study, which was published in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology, atlooked  the biological abnormalities in the bodies of 70 infants who had died of SIDS.

SIDS is the phenomenon whereby a, seemingly healthy, baby dies suddenly before their first birthday. The deaths tend to occur while the baby is sleeping.

The condition, which occurs in 103 out of every 100,000 live births in the US, is the leading cause of post-neonatal deaths in the US. According to the Health Ministry, 45 babies die of SIDS per year in Israel.

What potential SIDS cause did researchers find?

In the bodies of the infants, researchers discovered that there were abnormalities in the 2A/C serotonin receptors. This receptor is responsible for protective sleep functions.

Baby (Illustrative). (credit: Ignacio Campo/Unsplash)

The researchers believe that SIDS is the result of a culmination of the abnormal receptor, developmental timings and external stressors.

An infant is at risk of SIDS when their cardio-respiratory system has not fully developed, they have a biological abnormality or they are sleeping in a way that creates external stress, according to the researchers.

“The work presented builds upon previous work by our laboratory and others showing abnormalities in the serotonergic system of some SIDS infants,” said Robin Haynes, a researcher on the study.

“Although we have identified abnormalities in the serotonin 2A/C receptor in SIDS, the relationship between the abnormalities and cause of death remains unknown. Much work remains in determining the consequence of abnormalities in this receptor in the context of a larger network of serotonin and non-serotonin receptors that protect vital functions in cardiac and respiratory control when challenged. Currently, we have no means to identify infants with biological abnormalities in the serotonergic system. Thus, adherence to safe-sleep practices remains critical.” 

How can SIDS be prevented? 

The Health Ministry released a guide for parents on keeping their babies safe from SIDS. 

The ministry recommends that babies be placed on their backs when they go to sleep. Babies should be placed on a hard mattress with a seal of approval. They should also be sleeping in their parent’s room until the baby is 6 months old, although the ministry stresses that a year would be preferable.

The guide insists that babies’ beds should be empty of everything, including pillows and toys. The baby’s head should be completely uncovered. If using a blanket, the blanket should be tucked under the mattress at armpit level.

The ministry recommends that the room be maintained at a temperature range of 22-23 degrees celsius.