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28 Sep 2017

A new Australian study has confirmed abnormalities in serotonin, a common brain chemical, are linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

SIDS is the leading cause of infant death (between the ages of one month and one year) in Australia and most of the developed world.

University of Adelaide’s Medical School conducted the Australian first study, investigating 41 cases of SIDS deaths, and found there were striking abnormalities in chemical serotonin within the brain. The study has been published in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology.

Dr Fiona Bright, the primary researcher, said the study was significant because it confirmed abnormalities in serotonin in the brain are most definitely linked to cases of SIDS.

“Our research suggests that alterations in these neurochemicals may contribute to brainstem dysfunction during a critical postnatal developmental period,” she said.

“As a result, this could lead to an inability of a SIDS infant to appropriately respond to life-threatening events, such as lack of oxygen supply during sleep.”

Her work builds on research conducted in the United States at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where Dr Bright was based for 18 months during her combined studies.

The Sudden Infant Death Research Foundation Inc., now known as Red Nose, estimates that annually, 3,200 Australian families experience the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or child. They have been quick to welcome the results of a University of Adelaide study.

Risk reduction still remains the key preventer of SIDs. This includes evidence-based safe sleeping public health program. Since risk reduction campaigns began in 1989, the rate of SIDS in Australia has decreased by 80 per cent. Red Nose believes that an estimated 9,450 lives have been saved.

Dr Bright’s research also reinforces that risk factors are central to managing SIDS.

“Notably, the SIDS cases we studied were all linked to at least one major risk factor for SIDS, with more than half of the infants found in an adverse sleeping position and having had an illness one month prior to death,” Dr Bright says.

“Ultimately, we hope that this work will lead to improved prevention strategies, helping to save baby's lives and the emotional trauma experienced by many families.”

For information on how to sleep baby safely to reduce the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy, including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents, visit


Published: 28 Sep 2017