Cause of cot death discovered?
Researchers from the UK, US and Japan have come up with a new hypothesis on cot death. Accordingly, the failure of a channel protein in certain nerve cells means that emergency breathing no longer works.
The researchers led by Julian Paton from the University of Bristol had discovered nerve cells in the brains of rats that react when the animals experience acute respiratory distress: when there was a lack of oxygen, sodium channels opened in the cell membrane of the neurons, so that sodium ions flowed in. The nerve cells stimulated by the influx of ions in turn caused the respiratory muscles to contract abruptly, causing the animals to gasp for air.
If the channels were blocked, this emergency breathing failed. Normal breathing, however, remained unaffected. According to this, the brain seems to regulate sudden gasping for air in an emergency using nerve cells other than the regular breathing rhythm.
A genetically defective channel protein could also lead to deaths in small children, according to the researchers. Sudden infant death is the most common cause of death in children under the age of one. However, the rate has been declining and is now around 0.5 cases per thousand.