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N Engl J Med. 2004 Sep 2;351(10):978-86.

Second-trimester maternal serum levels of alpha-fetoprotein and the subsequent risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Cambridge University, Cambridge, United Kingdom.



Unexplained stillbirth and the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) share some features. A raised maternal serum level of alpha-fetoprotein during the second trimester of pregnancy is a marker of placental dysfunction and a strong predictor of the risk of unexplained stillbirth. It is unknown whether alpha-fetoprotein levels also predict the risk of SIDS.


We linked a prenatal-screening database for women in western Scotland with databases of maternity, perinatal death, and birth and death certifications to assess the association between second-trimester levels of maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein and the subsequent risk of SIDS.


Among 214,532 women with singleton births, there were 114 cases of SIDS (incidence, 2.7 per 10,000 births among women with alpha-fetoprotein levels in the lowest quintile and 7.5 per 10,000 births among those with levels in the highest quintile). When the lowest quintile was used as a referent, the unadjusted odds ratios for SIDS for the second through fifth quintiles were 1.7 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.8 to 3.5), 1.8 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.9 to 3.7), 2.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.3 to 4.8), and 2.8 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.4 to 5.4), respectively (P for trend = 0.001). The risk of SIDS varied inversely with the birth-weight percentile and the gestational age at delivery; after adjustment for these factors, the odds ratios for SIDS were 1.7 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.8 to 3.5), 1.7 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.8 to 3.5), 2.2 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 4.4), and 2.2 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 4.3), respectively (P for trend = 0.01).


There is a direct association between second-trimester maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein levels and the risk of SIDS, which may be mediated in part through impaired fetal growth and preterm birth.

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