Long QT molecular autopsy in sudden unexplained death in the young (1-40 years old): Lessons learnt from an eight year experience in New Zealand

PLoS One. 2018 Apr 19;13(4):e0196078. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196078. eCollection 2018.


Background: To review long QT syndrome molecular autopsy results in sudden unexplained death in young (SUDY) between 2006 and 2013 in New Zealand.

Methods: Audit of the LQTS molecular autopsy results, cardiac investigations and family screening data from gene-positive families.

Results: During the study period, 365 SUDY cases were referred for molecular autopsy. 128 cases (35%) underwent LQTS genetic testing. 31 likely pathogenic variants were identified in 27 cases (21%); SCN5A (14/31, 45%), KCNH2 (7/31, 22%), KCNQ1 (4/31, 13%), KCNE2 (3/31, 10%), KCNE1 (2/31, 7%), KCNJ2 (1/31, 3%). Thirteen variants (13/128, 10%) were ultimately classified as pathogenic. Most deaths (63%) occurred during sleep. Gene variant carriage was more likely with a positive medical history (mostly seizures, 63% vs 36%, p = 0.01), amongst females (36% vs 12%, p = 0.001) and whites more than Maori (31% vs 0, p = 0.0009). Children 1-12 years were more likely to be gene-positive (33% vs 14%, p = 0.02). Family screening identified 42 gene-positive relatives, 18 with definitive phenotypic expression of LQTS/Brugada. 76% of the variants were maternally inherited (p = 0.007). Further family investigations and research now support pathogenicity of the variant in 13/27 (48%) of gene-positive cases.

Conclusion: In New Zealand, variants in SCN5A and KCNH2, with maternal inheritance, predominate. A rare variant in LQTS genes is more likely in whites rather than Maori, females, children 1-12 years and those with a positive personal and family history of seizures, syncope or SUDY. Family screening supported the diagnosis in a third of the cases. The changing classification of variants creates a significant challenge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alleles
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / epidemiology*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Association Studies*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Long QT Syndrome / complications
  • Long QT Syndrome / genetics*
  • Long QT Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

CureKids part funded JRS, TD and AJG salary, during the period of this study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.