Objective: Fatty acid oxidation (FAO) disorders are frequently reported as the cause of sudden and unexpected death, but their postmortem recognition remains difficult. We have devised a biochemical protocol in which informative findings in liver tissue are microvesicular steatosis, elevated concentrations of C8-C16 fatty acids, glucose depletion, and low carnitine concentration.
Study design: We analyzed 27 cases representing five FAO disorders and compared the results with those obtained in a retrospective blinded analysis of 418 cases of sudden infant death (313 SIDS, 45 infections, and 34 accidents and abuse).
Results: All cases of accidents and abuse correctly tested negative. Among the others, 25 (6%) showed at least two abnormal findings. Of these, 14 closely matched the biochemical profiles seen in specific FAO disorders. These included 2 cases with medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency, 4 cases consistent with glutaric acidemia type 2, 4 cases with either very long-chain acylcoenzyme A dehydrogenase deficiency or long-chain 3-hydroxy-acyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase deficiency, and 4 cases predicted to be affected with carnitine uptake defect.
Conclusion: The results of this study support the view that approximately 5% of all cases of sudden infant death are likely caused by an FAO disorder.