Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death among babies in the United States, with more than 2,200 deaths annually. Fortunately, a breakthrough study from Australia, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that babies with low levels of the brain chemical called Substance P could be at risk of SIDS.

The study was conducted by the University of Adelaide researchers and in collaboration with Harvard Medical School and the Boston Children’s Hospital. Based on their findings, the majority of the brain samples from babies who died of SIDS showed that they had much lower levels of Substance P, The Australian noted.

What is Substance P?

According to ScienceDirect, Substance P is a “neuropeptide that acts as a mediator of pain transmission in the central nervous system and during neurogenic inflammation in the periphery.” In babies, this brain chemical is responsible for assisting in controlling the head and neck movement.

It also controls several functions such as responding to low-oxygen situations, especially when the babies roll onto their stomachs. However, inadequate levels of this brain chemical could leave babies unable to move out of life-threatening positions during sleep.

Along with the associated neuroreceptor called Neurokinin-1 (NK1R), Substance P plays a significant part in the brain’s ability to control the respiratory system. Substance P’s failure to properly bind with NK1R may curb the body’s response to deprivation of oxygen or hypoxia.

The study

According to University of Adelaide Professor Roger Byard, their findings suggested that they were able to solve one of the essential aspects of the mysteries surrounding SIDS.

He added that the study also paved the way for a “new area of SIDS research.”

Apart from Substance P, Byard revealed that serotonin levels are also an important factor to consider in SIDS. Lead study author Dr. Fiona Bright, on the other hand, said they may not have determined the “exact cause of death in SIDS” but they were able to point out a subset of underlying vulnerability that exposes the babies to much greater risk of SIDS, as per The Sydney Morning Herald.

Premature and male babies

The researchers also stressed that they found prematurity and the male gender influenced the NK1R binding abnormality. With that said, this theory explained the increased risk of SIDS among male and premature babies.

Aside from gender and prematurity, sleeping positions or practices are also important factors to consider when it comes to SIDS. In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the age-old practice of swaddling or wrapping babies in a blanket or cloth with arms inside and head exposed has been linked to SIDS.

This practice has long been deemed as a factor in promoting calmness and sleep. Meanwhile, babies who are breastfed have slightly lower risks of SIDS compared to those babies who are bottle-fed.

Reducing SIDS death

Due to the prevalence of SIDS, Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority has released safe sleeping guidelines that instruct childcare centers to ensure that babies are sleeping on their back unless there’s a medical reason.

Meanwhile, the researchers are hoping that their findings could lead to the development of screening tests or biomarkers to identify babies who are most at risk of SIDS. The research was funded by River’s Gift SIDS charity, which was established in 2011 by the parents who lost their four-month-old son to SIDS, revealed.