Neurobiology: why do babies die from sudden infant death syndrome?

Babies die in their sleep all the time. A possible cause has already been found by researchers in the US. (Iconic image) Image: dpa

A research team in Boston investigated why babies die unexpectedly. Their results show that one of the reasons could be the molecular-biological change in the brain.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a rare but terrifying event in which a baby unexpectedly dies in its sleep, usually between the ages of two and four months. A possible cause has already been found. Boston Children’s Hospital researchers present at least very valid results in the “Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology”.

The team led by Robin L. Haynes used molecular biology to examine the brains of 70 babies who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and compared them with those of other babies who died of other causes. They found changes in the serotonin 2A/C receptor in the SIDS brains.

They may have found exactly what neurobiologists have been looking for decades: molecular biological changes in brain regions important for survival, such as those responsible for breathing. Remodeling processes occur in various brain regions during a critical time window in the infant’s brain maturation. The theory now is: if something goes wrong, it could cause children to not breathe – and die.

Serotonin receptors now appear to be the molecular-biological structure in which irregularities occur during brain maturation: it is known from experiments in rodents that serotonin metabolism in the brainstem is crucial for the supply of oxygen to the brain during sleep.

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However, this knowledge is of little help in avoiding SIDS. However, parents can significantly reduce the risk by optimizing their children’s sleep conditions, as SIDS statistics show: In Germany, this cause of death has become very rare in recent decades. In 1991, 1,285 children died from it, in 2020 there were 84. Experts from the Children’s Health Foundation explain this positive development by saying that parents are more informed about risk factors – such as lying on their stomachs and blankets that impede breathing.

Source: DO