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J Neurol Sci. 2013 Jun 15;329(1-2):45-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2013.03.012. Epub 2013 Apr 7.

Neuronal nuclear antigen (NeuN): a useful marker of neuronal immaturity in sudden unexplained perinatal death.

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  • 1"Lino Rossi" Research Center for the Study and Prevention of Unexpected Perinatal Death and SIDS Department of Surgical, Reconstructive and Diagnostic Sciences, University of Milan, Italy.



In the developing brain neuronal differentiation is associated with permanent exit from the mitotic cycle. Neuronal nuclear antigen (NeuN) is a nuclear protein widely expressed in the mature postmitotic neurons.


We applied NeuN immunocytochemistry in 65 cases of perinatal death (16 victims of sudden intrauterine unexplained death syndrome/SIUDS, 19 of sudden infant death syndrome/SIDS and 30 controls) to test the physiological status of the brain neurons. In addition we applied both TUNEL and Caspase 3 immunohistochemical methods in order to highlight a possible relation between decreased NeuN expression and apoptotic outcome. We also attempted to see whether or not NeuN pathological changes can be related to cigarette smoke absorption in pregnancy.


NeuN staining was considerably reduced or lost in SIUDS/SIDS compared to controls. However neurons with decreased NeuN-labeling showed no sign of apoptosis. A significant association was found between NeuN depletion and maternal smoking.


Altered NeuN expression can be a marker of immature and/or suffering neurons. The exclusive presence of this pattern of expression in SIUDS/SIDS victims, leads us to recommend the NeuN immunohistochemistry as a routine method in neuropathological protocols to convalidate a diagnosis of sudden perinatal death.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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