More than 40 percent of infants who died of SIDS had an abnormality in the studied region.
A new study, published online in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, found that a region of the brain is associated with sudden unexplained death in infants. This brain region, known as the dentate gyrus, has been associated with epilepsy. Researchers contend that lesions in this brain region may create a developmental vulnerability causing respiratory instability, seizures, and sleep-related death in infants.
According to the National Institutes of Health, this study is an important step in understanding the tragic phenomenon of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). More than 40 percent of infants who died of SIDS had an abnormality in the studied region. In comparison, 7.7 percent of the control group who had died of another explained cause had this abnormality. Researchers believe that the abnormality may destabilize breathing or heart rate, which causes death during sleep or a brief arousal from sleep during the night.
In addition to being linked to epilepsy, this brain region affects the hippocampus. The hippocampus influences critical bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature through its neurological connections to the brainstem. The hippocampus is also involved in memory, learning, and spatial orientation. The dentate gyrus is usually a single layer of nerve cells, but in SIDS cases, parts of length were a double layer of nerve cells.
SIDS is a complicated and nebulous condition. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are no tests to tell SIDS apart from suffocation, but most of the deaths occur while an infant is in an unsafe sleeping environment. SIDS is the third leading cause of infant deaths in the U.S. and the leading cause of death in infants between one and 12 months.