Not gasping might cause infant death

Medicine & Science

July 12, 2004|By Andreas von Bubnoff | Andreas von Bubnoff,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Researchers say they have found a clue to why children die of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, by examining how the brain regulates gasping for air when it doesn't get enough oxygen.

The finding, published last week in the journal Neuron, might one day help identify children at risk for the syndrome, the leading killer of U.S. children under the age of 1, said lead researcher Jan-Marino Ramirez of the University of Chicago.

Some experts believe that children die of SIDS because they fail to gasp - or inhale - when they sleep on their stomach and don't get enough oxygen. In their experiments, Ramirez and colleagues cut tissue from mouse brain stems, which regulate breathing. They showed that healthy cells fired when deprived of oxygen, which would prompt gasping. But if the cells were inhibited with chemicals, they did not function.

That leads the researchers to conclude that if similar cells are not functioning properly in babies, the child might not gasp when oxygen levels fall.

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