Prenatal Alcohol in SIDS and Stillbirth (PASS) Network
Dr. Kinney’s group is conducting basic and applied research related to molecular and biological aspects of alcohol-related injury to the brain, systemic organs, and placenta in the subject population. Their hypothesis is that prenatal exposure to alcohol adversely affects the development of the serotonergic (5-HT) system in the medulla oblongata of the brainstem, and thereby puts the vulnerable fetus/infant at risk for sudden death by compromising an array of homeostatic reflexes which are all influenced by the medullary 5-HT neurons, and which protect the fetus/infant from life-threatening stressors, e.g., hypoxia, hypercarbia, and hypotension. This hypothesis is a direct outgrowth of Dr. Kinney’s brainstem analysis in two independent databases of SIDS and control cases, including the Northern Plains Indians, a high-risk population. We are investigating the role of selected neurotransmitter systems in causing or augmenting brain abnormalities that may be shared by SIDS, unexplained stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. We are testing to determine whether polymorphisms or mutations in 5-HT-related markers are associated with medullary 5-HT system abnormalities and an increased risk for sudden death in fetuses/infants exposed to prenatal alcohol.