Scientists believe a lack of a vital protein that helps breathing could be behind cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or cot death.

The scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, discovered that mice born without the Atoh1 master gene struggled to breathe, with 50 per cent dying at birth, and a recent study of cot death victims found that they too had the same gene abnormality.

Atoh1 is used in the regulation of carbon dioxide, and the mice in the study born without it struggled to breathe as they could not adjust their breathing to decrease carbon dioxide and oxygenate the blood.

A genetic test could determine whether a child is at risk of SIDS, which is the single largest cause of death in babies more than a month old, accounting for approximately 300 cases a year, the scientists believe.

Dr Huba Zoghbi, who led the research, said: "The death of mice at birth clued us in that Atoh1 must be needed for the function of some neurons critical for neonatal breathing, so we set out to define these neurons.

"Discovering Atoh1 is indeed critical for the RTN neurons to take their right place in the brainstem and connect with the breathing centre helped us uncover why they are important for neonatal breathing."

Their findings were reported in the journal Neuron.

Story posted on 07/09/2012 by Robert Mair