Genetic analysis of sudden unexplained death: A multidisciplinary approach

Silke Kauferstein, Nadine Kiehnea, Tina Jenewein, Stephanie Biel, Marnie Kopp, Rainer König König, Damir Erkapic, Markus Rothschild, Thomas Neumann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Each year infants, children and young adults die suddenly and unexpectedly. In many cases the cause of death can be elucidated by medico-legal autopsy, however, a significant number of these cases remain unexplained despite a detailed postmortem investigation and are labeled as sudden unexplained death (SUD). Post-mortem genetic testing, so called molecular autopsy, revealed that primary arrhythmogenic disorders including long QT syndrome and catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) may account for a certain number of these cases. Because of the inheritance of these diseases, close relatives of the deceased may also at potential risk of carrying fatal cardiac disorders. Therefore, advanced diagnostic analyses, genetic counseling and interdisciplinary collaboration should be integral parts of clinical and forensic practice. In the present study, we performed mutation analyses of the major genes causing cardiac channelopathies in 15 SUD cases. In four cases we found putative pathogenic mutations in cardiac ion channel genes. Clinical and genetic examination of family members of SUD victims was also performed and affected family members were identified. This study demonstrates that molecular genetic screening needs to become an inherent part of the postmortem examination. This will enhance the ability of screening family members of SUD victims who may be at risk. The present data also illustrate that detection and follow up of familial cases of sudden death is challenging and requires a close multidisciplinary collaboration between different medical disciplines, with great responsibility for the forensic pathologist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-127
Number of pages6
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Ion channels
  • Long QT syndrome
  • Polymorphic ventricular tachycardia
  • Post-mortem genetic testing
  • Sudden cardiac death


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