Faculty Profile

Hannah C. Kinney, MD


Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School
Associate in Medicine, Department of Pathology, Children's Hospital Boston

See publications


Research Interests

Hannah Kinney's research is directed at defining the causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Dr. Kinney and colleagues are testing the idea that SIDS, or a subset of SIDS, is due to a developmental brainstem defect in autonomic and/or respiratory control during sleep. Focusing specifically on the arcuate nucleus in the ventral medulla area of the brainstem -- important in the detection of carbon dioxide and other respiratory and blood pressure responses -- her team is identifying abnormalities that put an infant at risk for sudden death during sleep. While continuing to study the anatomy and neurochemistry of the ventral medulla in SIDS victims, Dr. Kinney's team is also looking at the function and pathology of the ventral medulla in animal models. The ultimate goals of this research are to define ventral medullary abnormalities in living infants and to suggest ways of preventing the abnormalities from leading to sudden infant death.

Her studies have also detected serotonergic binding deficiencies in SIDS victims in six functionally and developmentally related components of ventral medulla--all regions critically involved in chemoreception, respiratory drive, blood pressure responses, upper airway reflexes, and/or thermoregulation. Four of the six affected regions, including the caudal raphé and arcuate nucleus, are considered derivatives of the rhombic lip and five of the six regions contain serotonergic neurons in the developing human brain.

These studies have led to an expanded hypothesis concerning the role of the developing ventral medulla in SIDS: SIDS, or a subset of SIDS, is due to a developmental abnormality in a ventral network composed of rhombic-lip derived, serotonergic neurons, and that this abnormality results in a failure of protective responses to life-threatening challenges (e.g., asphyxia, hypoxia, hypercapnia) during sleep.

Selected Publications

Kinney HC, Armstrong DL, Chadwick AE, Crandall LA, Hilbert C, Belliveau RA, Kupsky WJ, Krous HF. Sudden death in toddlers associated with developmental abnormalities of the hippocampus: a report of five cases.
Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2007 May-Jun;10(3):208-23. [PMID: 17535090]

Kinney HC, Belliveau RA, Trachtenberg FL, Rava LA, Paterson DS. The development of the medullary serotonergic system in early human life.
Auton Neurosci. 2007 Mar 30;132(1-2):81-102. [PMID: 17236817]

Kinney HC. The near-term (late preterm) human brain and risk for periventricular leukomalacia: a review.
Semin Perinatol. 2006 Apr;30(2):81-8. [PMID: 16731282]

Kinney HC, Panigrahy A, Newburger JW, Jonas RA, Sleeper LA. Hypoxic-ischemic brain injury in infants with congenital heart disease dying after cardiac surgery.
Acta Neuropathol. 2005 Dec;110(6):563-78.[PMID: 16244891]

Kinney HC. Abnormalities of the brainstem serotonergic system in the sudden infant death syndrome: a review.
Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2005 Sep-Oct;8(5):507-24. [PMID: 16222475]

Kinney HC, Myers MM, Belliveau RA, Randall LL, Trachtenberg FL, Fingers ST, Youngman M, Habbe D, Fifer WP. Subtle autonomic and respiratory dysfunction in sudden infant death syndrome associated with serotonergic brainstem abnormalities: a case report.
J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2005 Aug;64(8):689-94. [PMID: 16106217]

Kinney HC, Randall LL, Sleeper LA, Willinger M, Belliveau RA, Zec N, Rava LA, Dominici L, Iyasu S, Randall B, Habbe D, Wilson H, Mandell F, McClain M, Welty TK. Serotonergic brainstem abnormalities in Northern Plains Indians with the sudden infant death syndrome.
Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology 2003; 62: 1178-1191. [PMID: 14656075]

Grafe M, Kinney HC. Neuropathology associated with stillbirth.
Seminars in Perinatology 2002; 26: 83-88. [PMID: 11876572]

Kinney HC, McHugh T, Miller K, Belliveau RA, Assmann SF. Subtle developmental abnormalities in the inferior olive: an indicator of prenatal brainstem injury in the sudden infant death syndrome.
J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2002 May;61(5):427-41. [PMID: 12025944]

Kinney HC, Filiano JJ. Brain research in the sudden infant death syndrome.
In: Kraus HF, Byard RW, editors. Sudden infant death syndrome: a diagnostic approach. London: Chapman and Hal; 2001.

Kinney HC, Filiano JJ, White WF. Medullary serotonergic network deficiency in the sudden infant death syndrome: review of a 15-year study of a single dataset.
J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2001 Mar;60(3):228-47. [PMID: 11245208]

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