Confirmation of cause of death via comprehensive autopsy and whole exome molecular sequencing in people with epilepsy and sudden unexpected death

C. Anwar A. Chahal*, David J. Tester, Ahmed U. Fayyaz, Keerthi Jaliparthy, Nadeem A. Khan, Dongmei Lu, Mariha Khan, Aradhana Sahoo, Aiswarya Rajendran, Jennifer A. Knight, Michael A. Simpson, Elijah R. Behr, Elson L. So, Erik K. St. Louis, R. Ross Reichard, William D. Edwards, Michael J. Ackerman, Virend K. Somersv

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading mode of death in the United States. Epilepsy affects 1% of Americans; yet epidemiological data show a prevalence of 4% in cases of sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) may share features with sudden cardiac arrest. The objective of this study was to report autopsy and genomic findings in a large cohort of SUDEP cases. METHODS AND RESULTS: Mayo Clinic Sudden Death Registry containing cases (ages 0–90 years) of sudden unexpected and unexplained deaths 1960 to present was queried. Exome sequencing performed on decedent cases. From 13 687 cases of sudden death, 656 (4.8%) had a history of seizures, including 368 confirmed by electroencephalography, 96 classified as SUDEP, 58 as non-SUDEP, and 214 as unknown (insufficient records). Mean age of death in SUDEP was 37 (±19.7) years; 56 (58.3%) were male; 65% of deaths occurred at night; 54% were found in bed; and 80.6% were prone. Autopsies were obtained in 83 cases; bystander coronary artery disease was frequently reported as cause of death; nonspecific fibrosis was seen in 32.6% of cases, in structurally normal hearts. There were 4 cases of Dravet syndrome with pathogenic variants in SCN1A gene. Using whole exome sequencing in 11 cases, 18 ultrarare nonsynonymous variants were identified in 6 cases including CACNB2, RYR2, CLNB, CACNA1H, and CLCN2. CONCLUSIONS: This study examined one of the largest single-center US series of SUDEP cases. Several cases were reclassified as SUDEP, 15% had an ECG when alive, and 11 (11.4%) had blood for whole exome sequencing analysis. The most frequent antemortem genetic finding was pathogenic variants in SCN1A; postmortem whole exome sequencing identified 18 ultrarare variants.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere021170
JournalJournal of the American Heart Association
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2021


  • Cardiomyopathies
  • Channelopathies
  • Genetics
  • Sudden death


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