Medullary serotonin defects and respiratory dysfunction in sudden infant death syndrome

Paterson, D. S.; Hilaire, G.; Weese-Mayer, D. E.

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2009 Jun 2; 168(1-2):133-43


Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is defined as the sudden and unexpected death of an infant less than 12 months of age that occurs during sleep and remains unexplained after a complete autopsy, death scene investigation, and review of the clinical history. It is the leading cause of postneonatal mortality in the developed world. The cause of SIDS is unknown, but is postulated to involve impairment of brainstem-mediated homeostatic control. Extensive evidence from animal studies indicates that serotonin (5-HT) neurons in the medulla oblongata play a role in the regulation of multiple aspects of respiratory and autonomic function. A subset of SIDS infants have several abnormalities in medullary markers of 5-HT function and genetic polymorphisms impacting the 5-HT system, informing the hypothesis that SIDS results from a defect in 5-HT brainstem-mediated control of respiratory (and autonomic) regulation. Here we review the evidence from postmortem human studies and animal studies to support this hypothesis and discuss how the pathogenesis of SIDS is likely to originate in utero during fetal development.

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