Biological cause may be behind SIDS, study finds

A new study from researchers at Boston Children's Hospital and Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego found a biological mechanism that may play a role in sudden infant death syndrome.

The findings were published May 25 in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology and are based on a brain tissue analysis of 70 infants who died between 2004 and 2011, 12 of whom died of SIDS. Scientists previously identified factors tied to SIDS: a critical period of development in the first year of life; an extrinsic stressor, such as sleeping face down; and an intrinsic underlying vulnerability. 

The latest research suggests one of those abnormalities involves a serotonin-related brain receptor that may help babies gasp for air. The brain tissue analysis showed that babies who died of SIDS were more likely to have an altered version of this particular receptor compared to the other infants who died. Researchers believe the altered receptor might hinder the auto-resuscitation breathing response that would normally kick in when babies are not getting enough oxygen while sleeping, NBC News reported May 24. 

Some experts not involved with the study said it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from small sample sizes that SIDS research is typically based on, according to NBC News. Genetics and infections are also believed to play a role.

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