Our purpose was to identify and further characterize physiologic mechanisms relevant to autoresuscitation from hypoxic apnea in infants dying suddenly and unexpectedly. We studied cardiorespiratory recordings of 24 infants (age range, 0.8-21 months) who died suddenly while being monitored at home. These recordings were analyzed for features indicated by studies in animal models to be characteristic of hypoxic gasping, and of recovery from bradycardia and apnea associated with gasping (e.g., autoresuscitation). Findings in 5 infants diagnosed as having sudden infant death syndrome were compared with 6 non-SIDS infants whose deaths resulted from other conditions. Additionally, we studied 15 healthy infants during sleep, using home monitor and other respiratory recording techniques, in order to obtain comparison data. We found in recordings from 23 of 24 subjects that hypoxic gasps with characteristic features occurred immediately preceding death. A unique pattern of complex, closely spaced gasps ("double" or "triple" gasps) was present in many subjects. Evidence of partially successful autoresuscitation closely following one or more gasps occurred in 11 subjects, while another 4 had evidence of complete autoresuscitation with return of normal heart rate and resolution of apnea on one or more occasions. Significant differences between SIDS infants and those dying from other causes included increased occurrence of complex gasps and decreased occurrence of partial or complete autoresuscitation in the SIDS infants. The non-SIDS cases were different from the SIDS cases in that only one had "double" gasps (n = 7), while none had "triple" gasps, as compared with 4 out of 5 SIDS cases with these patterns (P < 0.05, chi-square). Also, in contrast with the SIDS cases, more of the cases with specific postmortem diagnoses had evidence of partial (5 out of 6 cases) or complete (1 out of 6 cases) autoresuscitation (P < 0.05, chi-square). We conclude that partial or complete autoresuscitation by gasping is not uncommon in moribund infants during the first year of life. Failure of autoresuscitation mechanisms other than failure to initiate gasping may be characteristic of infants dying of SIDS. Some SIDS infants appear to be different from infants dying with other diagnoses with respect to efficacy and characteristics of hypoxic gasping.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.