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Obstruction of the lung capillaries by blood platelet aggregates and leucocytes in sudden infant death syndrome

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Hanssen T-A, Jørgensen L. Obstruction of the lung capillaries by blood platelet aggregates and leucocytes in sudden infant death syndrome. APMIS 2010; 118: 958–67.

Altogether 34 cases of sudden infant death were studied postmortem with particular emphasis on the pathological changes in the lungs. Light microscopy, including application of immunohistochemical methods, and transmission electron microscopy were used for the identification of blood platelets and white blood cell types in alveolar capillaries. The main findings were platelet aggregates and a varying number of neutrophil polymorphonuclear granulocytes in the lung capillaries, mixed with a smaller number of lymphocytes. The findings may be interpreted as an early sign of inflammation with capillary thrombosis, resulting in ischaemia, i.e. arrest of flow. In 21% of the cases, inflammatory cells had also expanded focally into alveolar spaces, creating the picture of localized areas of bronchopneumonia. An infant dying suddenly of a traumatic head injury served as a control. Neither platelets nor leucocytes were observed in the alveolar capillaries of this infant. In conclusion, in lungs from cases of sudden infant death syndrome, the alveolar capillaries are obstructed by platelet aggregates and leucocytes, interpreted as signs of an initial stage of lung inflammation with ischaemia.

Keywords: Sudden infant death syndrome; autopsy; electron microscopy; immunohistochemistry; initial lung inflammation; platelet aggregates in lung capillaries

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Clinical Pathology, University Hospital Northern Norway, Tromsø 2: Department of Medical Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

Publication date: December 1, 2010

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