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J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2001 Mar;60(3):228-47.

Medullary serotonergic network deficiency in the sudden infant death syndrome: review of a 15-year study of a single dataset.

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Department of Pathology, Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of postneonatal infant mortality in the United States today, despite a dramatic 38% decrease in incidence due to a national risk reduction campaign advocating the supine sleep position. Our research in SIDS brainstems, beginning in 1985 and involving a single, large dataset, has become increasingly focused upon a specific neurotransmitter (serotonin) and specific territories (ventral medulla and regions of the medullary reticular formation that contain secrotonergic neurons). Based on this research, we propose that SIDS, or a subset of SIDS, is due to a developmental abnormality in a medullary network composed of (at least in part) rhombic lip-derived, serotonergic neurons, including in the caudal raphé and arcuate nucleus (putative human homologue of the cat respiratory chemosensitive fields); and this abnormality results in a failure of protective responses to life-threatening stressors (e.g. asphyxia, hypoxia, hypercapnia) during sleep as the infant passes through a critical period in homeostatic control. We call this the medullary serotonergic network deficiency hypothesis. We review the triple-risk model for SIDS, the development of the dataset using tissue autoradiography for analyzing neurotransmitter receptor binding; age-dependent baseline neurochemical findings in the human brainstem during early life; the evidence for serotonergic, rhombic lip, and ventral medullary deficits in at least some SIDS victim; possible mechanisms of sudden infant death related to these deficits; and potential causes of the deficits in the medullary serotonergic network in SIDS victims. We conclude with a summary of future directions in SIDS brainstem research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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