A new study led by UCL researchers, published in The Lancet, suggests a possible genetic link to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The rare genetic mutation associated with impairment of the breathing muscles (the SCN4A gene) was identified as being more common in babies who had died of SIDS.

The study included a total of 278 children who had died from SIDS in the UK and USA. The rare genetic mutation of the SCN4A gene was found in four of the 278 children who had died of SIDS, compared to none of the 729 healthy controls who had no history of cardiovascular, respiratory or neurological disease.

“We think the genetic mutations we found may have contributed to why some of these infants died but are likely to have interacted with other risk factors and would not necessarily be the sole cause of death,” said the study’s last author, Dr Emma Matthews (UCL Institute of Neurology).

Francine Bates, CEO of The Lullaby Trust says in response to the researching findings: “We are very pleased that leading researchers continue to try and identify the cause of SIDS, which leads to the death of around four babies every week in the UK. This research suggests there may be a genetic component that increases the risk of SIDS in some cases. However, larger studies, including genetic testing of the parents, are needed before we can understand how much of a contribution mutations such as those affecting the SCN4A gene make to SIDS. In the meantime, we urge all parents to continue to follow our safer sleep advice to reduce the risk of SIDS: always place your baby on their back, in their own cot or Moses basket, in the same room as you for all sleeps, day and night.”

Learn more about how The Lullaby Trust supports SIDS research here.