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Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2013 Nov 1;189(2):315-23. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2013.05.010. Epub 2013 May 23.

Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy: fatal post-ictal respiratory and arousal mechanisms.

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Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, United States; Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, United States.


Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is the cause of premature death of up to 17% of all patients with epilepsy and as many as 50% with chronic refractory epilepsy. However, SUDEP is not widely recognized to exist. The etiology of SUDEP remains unclear, but growing evidence points to peri-ictal respiratory, cardiac, or autonomic nervous system dysfunction. How seizures affect these systems remains uncertain. Here we focus on respiratory mechanisms believed to underlie SUDEP. We highlight clinical evidence that indicates peri-ictal hypoxemia occurs in a large percentage of patients due to central apnea, and identify the proposed anatomical regions of the brain governing these responses. In addition, we discuss animal models used to study peri-ictal respiratory depression. We highlight the role 5-HT neurons play in respiratory control, chemoreception, and arousal. Finally, we discuss the evidence that 5-HT deficits contribute to SUDEP and sudden infant death syndrome and the striking similarities between the two.


Death; Peri-ictal; Respiratory; SUDEP

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