Molecular Autopsy of Sudden Cardiac Death in the Genomics Era

Diagnostics (Basel). 2021 Jul 30;11(8):1378. doi: 10.3390/diagnostics11081378.


Molecular autopsy is the process of investigating sudden death through genetic analysis. It is particularly useful in cases where traditional autopsy is negative or only shows non-diagnostic features, i.e., in sudden unexplained deaths (SUDs), which are often due to an underlying inherited arrhythmogenic cardiac disease. The final goal of molecular autopsy in SUD cases is to aid medico-legal inquiries and to guide cascade genetic screening of the victim's relatives. Early attempts of molecular autopsy relied on Sanger sequencing, which, despite being accurate and easy to use, has a low throughput and can only be employed to analyse a small panel of genes. Conversely, the recent adoption of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies has allowed exome/genome wide examination, providing an increase in detection of pathogenic variants and the discovery of newer genotype-phenotype associations. NGS has nonetheless brought new challenges to molecular autopsy, especially regarding the clinical interpretation of the large number of variants of unknown significance detected in each individual.

Keywords: genetics; molecular autopsy; next-generation sequencing; sudden cardiac death.

Publication types

  • Review