Researchers are another step closer to unlocking the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). What they’ve discovered about a protein that monitors lung volume and regulates breathing could shed light on why babies die in their sleep.
There have been a couple of significant scientific leaps in the search for a SIDS cause this year, including the Australian discovery that babies who die from SIDS have lower levels of a particular brain protein. An American study has now found that another protein may also hold a vital clue.
Protein Helps Lungs Expand
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute and Harvard Medical School have found that the Piezo2 protein plays a critical role in sensing lung expansion. The researchers discovered that newborn mice without it died at birth.
“The lungs communicate with the brain via sensory neurons. The Piezo2 channel in sensory neurons generates a message about lung volume changes, and Piezo2-containing sensory neurons deliver this message to the brain,” said co-author Keiko Nonomura.
“Piezo2-deficient mice cannot generate an accurate message about their lung volume changes. As a result, these mice cannot receive proper output from the brain.”
It appears that babies without the protein have shallow breathing that needs medical attention.
“Piezo2-deficient newborn mice develop normally until birth. The problem only arise once the mice are born and try to breathe on their own,” said Research Associate Nonomura.
Another Step Towards Solving SIDS
While studies will need to continue, the research team says they already know that independent breathing in newborns is much more complex.
“At birth, newborn respiratory system undergoes drastic structural changes as liquid-filled compressed foetal airways are being cleared and inflated with air,” said senior author Ardem Patapoutian.
“Therefore, newborn airways experience larger mechanical changes, compared to adult airways, which have already established normal breathing.”
Make sure you read our article on why sharing a room, but not a bed, with your baby can cut the risk of SIDS by 50 per cent.