Important new finding in the mechanisms underlying SUDEP

An Epilepsy Research UK-funded study has made an important finding in the mechanisms underlying sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), which may lead to treatment options in the future.

Professor John Jeffreys at the University of Oxford has been working alongside researchers at Purdue University and the University of Bristol on the project, funded by ERUK in 2014. The research team investigated rodent models of epilepsy and found that stomach acid may play a role in SUDEP. SUDEP has previously been linked with laryngospasm – a sudden spasming of the vocal cords which can be fatal. The team detected acid in the oesophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, in all cases of SUDEP in their study, leading them to believe that this is the primary trigger for laryngospasm. The results of this study have been published in the journal Epilepsy Research.

This research is timely because today, 23rd October, is SUDEP Action day. SUDEP occurs in approximately 1 per 1000 people with epilepsy, and 1 in 4,500 children with epilepsy. Around half of epilepsy-related deaths are caused by SUDEP, the causes of which are currently unknown.

As part of this project, which looked at a model of chronic temporal lobe epilepsy, the researchers collected data on breathing and heart activity during and following repeated epileptic seizures. In addition they recorded, over several weeks, activity in the brain cells that control breathing. They have also used powerful new technology to identify changes in the molecular composition of heart tissue in rodent models of epilepsy. Combined, this research will provide much needed information on the potential causes of SUDEP, which may lead to treatment options in the future.

We are very grateful to the James Lewis Foundation who generously funded this study through Epilepsy Research UK.

For the full research article, published in Epilepsy Research journal, click here.

For more information on SUDEP, visit the SUDEP Action website here.

News categories