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SIDS Linked to Asphyxiation

University of Adelaide researchers have found that telltale signs in the brains of babies that have died of SIDS are remarkably similar to those of children who died of accidental asphyxiation.

“This is a very important result. It helps to show that asphyxia rather than infection or trauma is more likely to be involved in SIDS deaths,” says Prof Roger Byard of the University of Adelaide.

The study compared 176 children who died from head trauma, infection, drowning, asphyxia and SIDS, with researchers looking at the presence and distribution of β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) in the brain.

“All 48 of the SIDS deaths we looked at showed APP staining in the brain,” Byard says. “The pattern of APP staining in SIDS cases – both the amount and distribution of the staining – was very similar to those in children who had died from asphyxia.”

In one case, the presence of APP staining in a baby who had died of SIDS led to the identification of a significant sleep apnoea problem in the deceased baby’s sibling. “This raised the possibility of an inherited sleep apnoea problem, and this knowledge could be enough to help save a child's life," Byard says.

“Because of the remarkable similarity in SIDS and asphyxia cases, the question is now: is there an asphyxia-based mechanism of death in SIDS? We don't know the answer to that yet, but it looks very promising.”

The results have been published in Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology.