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Original research
Genetic variants in incident SUDEP cases from a community-based prospective cohort with epilepsy


Objective Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is a leading cause of epilepsy-related mortality in young adults. It has been suggested that SUDEP may kill over 20 000 people with epilepsy in China yearly. The aetiology of SUDEP is unclear. Little is known about candidate genes for SUDEP in people of Chinese origin as most studies have ascertained this in Caucasians. No candidate genes for SUDEP in Chinese people have been identified.

Methods We performed whole exome sequencing (WES) in DNA samples collected from five incident cases of SUDEP identified in a large epilepsy cohort in rural China. We filtered rare variants identified from these cases as well as screened for SUDEP, epilepsy, heart disease or respiratory disease-related genes from previous published reports and compared them with publicly available data, living epilepsy controls and ethnicity-match non-epilepsy controls, to identify potential candidate genes for SUDEP.

Results After the filtering process, the five cases carried 168 qualified mutations in 167 genes. Among these genetic anomalies, we identified rare variants in SCN5A (1/5:20% in our cases), KIF6 (1/5:20% in our cases) and TBX18 (1/5:20% in our cases) which were absent in 330 living epilepsy control alleles from the same original cohort and 320 ethnicity-match non-epilepsy control alleles.

Conclusions These three genes were previously related to heart disease, providing support to the hypothesis that underlying heart disorder may be a driver of SUDEP risk.

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