Findings from NIH-funded study could provide basis for forensic SIDS test
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Blood samples from infants who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had high levels of serotonin, a chemical that carries signals along and between nerves, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. The finding raises the possibility that a test could be developed to distinguish SIDS cases from other causes of sleep-related, unexpected infant death. The study, led by Robin L. Haynes, Ph.D., of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) provided funding for the work.
SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under one year of age that remains unexplained after a complete autopsy and death scene investigation. In the current study, researchers reported that 31 percent of SIDS infants (19 of 61) had elevated blood levels of serotonin. In previous studies, the researchers reported multiple serotonin-related brain abnormalities in SIDS cases, including a decrease in serotonin in regions involved in breathing, heart rate patterns, blood pressure, temperature regulation, and arousal during sleep.
Taken together, the researchers wrote, the findings suggest that an abnormality in serotonin metabolism could indicate an underlying vulnerability that increases SIDS risk and that testing blood samples for serotonin could distinguish certain SIDS cases from other infant deaths. However, they caution that more research is needed.
Safe to Sleep campaign provides information on ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.
Rosemary Higgins, M.D., of the NICHD Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch, which oversaw the study, is available for comment.
Haynes, RL, et al. High Serum Serotonin in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1617374114/-/DCSupplemental.
About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD conducts and supports research in the United States and throughout the world on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit NICHD’s website.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit