A prospective study of 46 infant deaths occurring between 3 and 100 weeks of age was performed and comprised a structured necropsy followed by collection of lung washings for surfactant phospholipid analysis and samples for microbiological examination. Of the 46 infants studied, 23 died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) alone; SIDS was the cause of death in a further 12 but there were additional clinical or pathological findings insufficient in themselves to account for the death ('SIDS-plus'). In 11 there were other causes of death ('non-SIDS'). The lung washings from infants dying from SIDS had significantly lower concentrations of phosphatidylcholine and a significantly lower palmitate content in the phosphatidylcholine. There was no association between surfactant phospholipid abnormality and the presence of recognised pathogens, histological evidence of pulmonary inflammation, aspiration of stomach contents, age at death, sex, and death-postmortem interval. There were, however, lower concentrations of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylcholine palmitate content in infants colonised by organisms with reported phospholipase A2 activity.
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