The cause of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has been a mystery, but an imbalance in a brain chemical may hold the key.
The chemical in the brain is the neurotransmitter, serotonin. It helps messages pass between brain cells and is most associated with mood, breathing and unconscious functions.
In this study, mice were genetically engineered to have slow serotonin production. At first they were normal.
"But then they suffered sporadic and unpredictable drops in heart rate and body temperature. More than half of the mice eventually died of these crises during a restricted period of early life. It was at that point that we thought it might have something to do with SIDS," Cornelius Gross of the European Molecular Biology Lab in Italy told Reuters.
Interestingly, the mice with no serotonin levels did not die, incidating that malfunctioning serotonin might be worse than none at all.
The studies, by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Italy, are published in the journal Science.
The research equates serotonin to a home thermostat.
“When the heat rises past a set point, the heating is shut off. Serotonin has the same type of feedback,” Cornelius Gross said to the Washington Post during a news conference.
The results are similar to those found in the U.S. two years ago. New research will target whether an imbalance in serotonin levels are genetic or due to environmental factors.
The Italian researchers were not conducting SIDS research. They were looking at serotonin levels and how the body maintains its levels. When the mice began dying unexpectedly a scientists who had done SIDS research, pointed out the similarities.
SIDS is still a leading cause of death in infants under one year of age, and its cause remains a mystery. The campaign to put babies to sleep on their backs reduced SIDS deaths as well as did keeping infants away from cigarette smoke, overheated rooms and excess bedding material.
SIDS still kills about one in 2,000 babies every year worldwide.
In May, a common bacteria was found to possibly contribute to crib death.
The study may give researchers new ways to detect the potential for SIDS in an otherwise healthy baby. #