Genetic screening in sudden cardiac death in the young can save future lives

Int J Legal Med. 2016 Jan;130(1):59-66. doi: 10.1007/s00414-015-1237-8. Epub 2015 Jul 31.


Background: Autopsy of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in the young shows a structurally and histologically normal heart in about one third of cases. Sudden death in these cases is believed to be attributed in a high percentage to inherited arrhythmogenic diseases. The purpose of this study was to investigate the value of performing post-mortem genetic analysis for autopsy-negative sudden unexplained death (SUD) in 1 to 35 year olds.

Methods and results: From January 2009 to December 2011, samples from 15 cases suffering SUD were referred to the Department of Clinical Genetics, Umeå University Hospital, Sweden, for molecular genetic evaluation. PCR and bidirectional Sanger sequencing of genes important for long QT syndrome (LQTS), short QT syndrome (SQTS), Brugada syndrome type 1 (BrS1), and catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) (KCNQ1, KCNH2, SCN5A, KCNE1, KCNE2, and RYR2) was performed. Multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) was used to detect large deletions or duplications in the LQTS genes. Six pathogenic sequence variants (four LQTS and two CPVT) were discovered in 15 SUD cases (40%). Ten first-degree family members were found to be mutation carriers (seven LQTS and three CPVT).

Conclusion: Cardiac ion channel genetic testing in autopsy-negative sudden death victims has a high diagnostic yield, with identification of the disease in 40 of families. First-degree family members should be offered predictive testing, clinical evaluation, and treatment with the ultimate goal to prevent sudden death.

Keywords: Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia; Long QT syndrome; Molecular autopsy; Sudden cardiac death; Sudden unexplained death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Forensic Genetics
  • Genetic Carrier Screening*
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • KCNQ1 Potassium Channel / genetics
  • Long QT Syndrome / genetics*
  • Mutation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • KCNQ1 Potassium Channel
  • KCNQ1 protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Polymorphic catecholergic ventricular tachycardia