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Could asphyxia be the cause of SIDS?

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Young children whose deaths have been ascribed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) show symptoms similar to those who die from asphyxiation, University of Adelaide researchers have found.

In a discovery that suggests a possible explanation for the mystery syndrome that claims dozens of lives every year, the researchers found that the brains of babies classified as SIDS cases displayed telltale signs similar to those of children who have asphyxiated.

The study involved measuring the presence and distribution of beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP) in the brains of 176 children aged less than two years who had died from a number of causes, including head trauma, drowning, asphyxia, infection and SIDS.

The researchers reported that “APP staining was seen in a high proportion of cases, including relatively sudden deaths”.

They found there was a “striking similarity” in the amount and distribution of APP staining in the brains of those who died from SIDS and those who died as a result of mechanical asphyxia – and was notably different from those who had died from infection or head injury.

“Whether this similarity results from a preceding long period of terminal asphyxia in SIDS cases, as suggested by others, requires further evaluation,” the authors wrote.

The study leader, Professor Roger Byard, told Six Minutes that although APP staining by itself did not necessarily reveal the cause of death, “it can help to clarify the mechanism”.

In one case examined for the study, the presence of APP staining in the brain of a child identified as a SIDS death led to the diagnosis of sleep apnoea in the dead baby’s sibling, indicating the possibility of an inherited problem, Six Minutes said.

The study has been published in in the journal Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology.

Adrian Rollins