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Serotonin May Be the Key to SIDS
Date:12/8/2010

nt of public affairs for First Candle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study and prevention of SIDS.

Some of the most recent research came from work headed by Dr. Hannah C. Kinney, a neuropathologist at Children's Hospital Boston and a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. Kinney, a leading SIDS researcher, and her colleagues found that serotonin levels of 35 babies who died of SIDS were 26 percent lower than those of babies who died of known causes. The SIDS infants also had 22 percent lower levels of tryptophan hydroxylase, an enzyme that helps make serotonin.

Serotonin is suspected to be crucial to a baby's arousal system, which Reno likened to an "alarm" that wakes a baby up when the infant's health is compromised.

"In these babies, the alarm doesn't sound," Reno said. "They continue to sleep even if there is a challenge in their environment, which then causes them to die."

Environmental hazards that could lead to a SIDS death, Reno said, include:

  • Belly sleeping. Infants allowed to sleep on their stomachs end up rebreathing their own exhaled air rather than fresh air. "They are taking in carbon dioxide instead of oxygen," which creates an oxygen deficiency that can result in death, Reno said.
  • Overheating. Babies dressed too warmly or swaddled in thick blankets can become too warm for their own health. "These babies get too heated and, again, the alarm doesn't sound," she said.
  • Too much soft and fluffy bedding and pillows in a crib also can cause a baby to smother. Babies who sleep in the same bed as their parents also are more likely to die of SIDS, Reno said.
  • Smoking. Cigarette smoke robs sleeping babies of needed oxygen. Secondhand smoke, she said, is "really dangerous for these babies."

The next step in research would be to find a way to identify babies who suffer from a natural lack of serotonin. "That would be the goal, because then we would be better able
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