Genetic studies in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) have been motivated by clinical, epidemiological, and/or neuropathological observations in SIDS victims, with subsequent pursuit of candidate genes in five categories: (1) genes for ion channel proteins based on electrocardiographic evidence of prolonged QT intervals in SIDS victims, (2) gene for serotonin transporter based on decreased serotonergic receptor binding in brainstems of SIDS victims, (3) genes pertinent to the early embryology of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) (and with a link to the 5-HT system) based on reports of ANS dysregulation in SIDS victims, (4) genes for nicotine metabolizing enzymes based on evidence of cigarette smoking as a modifiable risk factor for SIDS, and (5) genes regulating inflammation, energy production, hypoglycemia, and thermal regulation based on reports of postnatal infection, low birth weight, and/or overheating in SIDS victims. Evidence for each of these classes of candidate genes is reviewed in detail. As this review indicates, a number of genetically controlled pathways appear to be involved in at least some cases of SIDS. Given the diversity of results to date, genetic studies support the clinical impression that SIDS is heterogeneous with more than one entity and with more than one possible genetic etiology. Future studies should consider expanded phenotypic features that might help clarify the heterogeneity and improve the predictive value of the identified genetic factors. Such features should be evaluated to the extent possible in both SIDS victims and their family members. With 2,162 infants dying from SIDS in 2003 in the U.S. alone, and improved but still imperfect parent and caretaker compliance with known modifiable risk factors for SIDS, it behooves clinicians, researchers, and parents to combine efforts to reach a common goal. The message of the "Back to Sleep" campaign needs to be re-introduced/re-engineered to reach families and caretakers of all ethnic groups. Clinicians and researchers need to gently inform new SIDS parents about the opportunity to contribute tissue to the NICHD-funded University of Maryland Brain and Tissue Bank. By expanding the network of clinicians, scientists, and families working together, and by combined efforts in a collaborative multi-center study of candidate genes and/or genomics, the discovery of the genetic profile of the infant at risk for SIDS can ultimately be determined.
Copyright 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.