Post-mortem Whole Exome Sequencing with Gene-Specific Analysis for Autopsy-Negative Sudden Unexplained Death in the Young: A Case Series

Nupoor Narula, David J. Tester, Anna Paulmichl, Joseph J. Maleszewski, Michael J. Ackerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Annually, thousands of sudden deaths in individuals under 35 years remain unexplained following comprehensive medico-legal autopsy. Previously, post-mortem genetic analysis by Sanger sequencing of four major cardiac channelopathy genes revealed that approximately one-fourth of these autopsy-negative sudden unexplained death in the young (SUDY) cases harbored an underlying mutation. However, there are now over 100 sudden death-predisposing cardiac channelopathy-, cardiomyopathy-, and metabolic disorder-susceptibility genes. Here, we set out to determine whether post-mortem whole exome sequencing (WES) is an efficient strategy to detect ultra-rare, potentially pathogenic variants. We performed post-mortem WES and gene-specific analysis of 117 sudden death-susceptibility genes for 14 consecutively referred Caucasian SUDY victims (average age at death 17.4 ± 8.6 years) to identify putative SUDY-associated mutations. On average, each SUDY case had 12,758 ± 2,016 non-synonymous variants, of which 79 ± 15 localized to these 117 genes. Overall, eight ultra-rare variants (seven missense, one in-frame insertion) absent in three publically available exome databases were identified in six genes (three in TTN, and one each in CACNA1C, JPH2, MYH7, VCL, RYR2) in seven of 14 cases (50 %). Of the seven missense alterations, two (T171M-CACNA1C, I22160T-TTN) were predicted damaging by three independent in silico tools. Although WES and gene-specific surveillance is an efficient means to detect rare genetic variants that might underlie the pathogenic cause of death, accurate interpretation of each variant is challenging. Great restraint and caution must be exercised otherwise families may be informed prematurely and incorrectly that the root cause has been found.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)768-778
Number of pages11
JournalPediatric Cardiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 19 2015


  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Genes
  • Genetics
  • Long QT syndrome
  • Sudden death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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