Crib deaths might be linked to brain abnormality, study finds



Babies who die in their sleep of sudden infant death syndrome might have abnormalities in a part of the brain that helps control heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, according to Harvard-affiliated researchers looking for the cause of SIDS.

Their research, reported in today's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, found defects in babies' brainstems that appear to interfere with the ability to use serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a role in vital functions such as breathing and blood pressure.

Although the study involved a small number of infants - the brains of 31 SIDS babies were compared with those of 10 infants who died of other causes - specialists in the field said it adds weight to the idea that SIDS might result at least in part from underlying biological conditions.

"This finding lends credence to the view that SIDS risk may greatly increase when an underlying predisposition combines with an environmental risk, such as sleeping facedown, at a developmentally sensitive time in early life," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

SIDS, also called crib death, kills more than 2,000 infants each year in the United States.

Boys are more likely than girls to suffer from SIDS, and the researchers found that serotonin defects were more prevalent in the boys in the study.

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