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Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2009 Nov-Dec;12(6):455-63. doi: 10.2350/08-09-0542.1.

Sudden death, febrile seizures, and hippocampal and temporal lobe maldevelopment in toddlers: a new entity.

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Department of Pathology (Neuropathology), Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Enders Building, Room 1112, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA, 02115, USA.


Recently, we reported hippocampal and temporal lobe abnormalities in 5 toddlers with sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC). The association of these anomalies with a high incidence (40%) of individual/family histories of simple febrile seizures in the cases raised concern that febrile seizures can be associated with death. In a series of 64 toddlers with sudden death, we tested the hypothesis that an SUDC subset is characterized by hippocampal and temporal lobe maldevelopment and an individual and/or family history of simple familial seizures. Cases of sudden and unexplained death in children aged 1.0 to 5.9 years (median 1.7 years) were divided into groups based upon a history of febrile or nonfebrile seizures, familial febrile seizures, and autopsy classification of cause of death. Forty-nine of the 64 cases (77%) were classified as SUDC, of which 40% had an individual/family history of febrile seizures. Of the 26 SUDC cases with available hippocampal sections, 62% (16/26) had hippocampal and temporal lobe anomalies, including 82% (9/11) of cases with an individual/family history of febrile seizures. Cases with these anomalies were all found dead during a sleep period, typically in the prone (87%) position. We conclude that a potential new entity may account for the majority of SUDC in toddlers, defined by sleep-related death in the prone position, individual/family history of febrile seizures, and hippocampal and temporal lobe anomalies. The mechanism of death appears analogous to sudden death in (temporal lobe) epilepsy, with a putative unwitnessed seizure during sleep leading to airway occlusion and death. This study mandates further research into the potential link between simple febrile seizures and death.

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