In this issue of the JCI, Bowers et al. show that the common polymorphism of the cardiac voltage-gated sodium channel, type Vα (SCN5A), designated S1103Y, found in African Americans is associated with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Wild-type and mutant SCN5A channels both functioned typically under normal conditions in vitro, but exposure to acidic intracellular pH levels such as those found in respiratory acidosis — a known risk factor for SIDS — produced abnormal gain-of-function late reopenings of S1103Y channels, behavior that is often associated with cardiac arrhythmias. These pathologic late reopenings were suppressed by low levels of the channel-blocking drug mexiletine. These findings provide an excellent illustration of a causal relationship between the interaction of the environment and genetic background in SIDS and also raise interesting questions about the linkage of a genetic abnormality with a clinical phenotype.
Jonathan C. Makielski