Developmental neurotransmitter pathology in the brainstem of sudden infant death syndrome: a review and sleep position

Forensic Sci Int. 2002 Sep 14;130 Suppl:S53-9. doi: 10.1016/s0379-0738(02)00139-1.


Developmental studies on neurotransmitters and their receptors in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) infants and controls are reviewed, including comparison between the prone and supine positions at death. In SIDS infants, there are an increase of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-positive astrocytes in the brainstem, an increase of substance P (SP) in the medulla and pons, a decrease of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive catecholaminergic neurons in the ventrolateral medulla (VLM), and vagal nuclei in the medulla oblongata and basal ganglia, a decrease of tryptophan hydroxylase (TrH)-positive serotonergic neurons in the periaqueductal gray matter (PAG), and decreases of 5-hydroxytryptamine 1A (5-HT1A) and 5-HT2A receptor immunoreactivities in the VLM and vagal nuclei in the medulla oblongata. These findings may be the result of chronic or repeated hypoxia and at the same time suggest hypofunction or immaturity of cardiorespiratory regulation. In contrast, 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptor immunoreactivities are increased in the PAG of SIDS infants. These increased immunoreactivities may reflect delayed neuronal maturation or a developmental abnormality of the nocicetive reaction of cardiorespiratory and arousal control in SIDS. Also, there are no differences of brainstem gliosis and catecholaminergic neuron changes between the prone and supine positions. Therefore, these changes may be predisposing factors for SIDS.

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes / physiology
  • Brain Stem / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Gliosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / pathology
  • Infant
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Prone Position / physiology*
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / metabolism
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism
  • Respiration
  • Risk Factors
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Substance P / metabolism
  • Sudden Infant Death / pathology*
  • Supine Position / physiology*


  • Catecholamines
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Substance P