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Serotonin May Be Key to Sudden Infant Deaths
Date:2/2/2010

Deficiency hampers babies' ability to respond to low oxygen, study suggests,,,,

TUESDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Lack of the brain chemical serotonin may be crucial to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), new research finds.

Babies who died of SIDS had significantly lower levels of serotonin -- an important regulator of involuntary functions such as breathing and heart rate -- compared to babies who died of other causes, the study found. This finding may eventually lead to a test that could screen newborns to spot those most vulnerable to SIDS.

"This study is confirming that SIDS is a serotonin problem, and we're getting closer to the fundamental mechanism behind SIDS," said the study's senior author, Dr. Hannah C. Kinney, a neuropathologist at Children's Hospital Boston and a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.

"The goal is to develop a test to identify which babies are at risk, and then to find a drug that might be able to help them through the critical period. But these are long-term goals," she said.

Results of the study are published in the Feb. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

SIDS involves the sudden, unexplained death of an infant under one year of age, according to background information in the study. Although the rate of SIDS has decreased in the United States -- largely as a result of a national Back-to-Sleep campaign that encouraged parents to put babies to sleep on their backs one out of every 2,000 American babies is still dying of SIDS, the authors note.

Researchers have long suspected that a lack of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, may be a factor in SIDS deaths. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit messages from one brain cell to another. Experts have theorized that a lack of serotonin affects the way a baby responds to a loss of oxygen and a buildup of carbon dioxide while sleeping.
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