Suppression of phrenic nerve activity as a potential predictor of imminent sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP)

Omar Ashraf, Trong Huynh, Benton S. Purnell, Madhuvika Murugan, Denise E. Fedele, Vineet Chitravanshi, Detlev Boison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is a leading cause of death in patients with refractory epilepsy. Centrally-mediated respiratory dysfunction has been identified as one of the principal mechanisms responsible for SUDEP. Seizures generate a surge in adenosine release. Elevated adenosine levels suppress breathing. Insufficient metabolic clearance of a seizure-induced adenosine surge might be a precipitating factor in SUDEP. In order to deliver targeted therapies to prevent SUDEP, reliable biomarkers must be identified to enable prompt intervention. Because of the integral role of the phrenic nerve in breathing, we hypothesized that suppression of phrenic nerve activity could be utilized as predictive biomarker for imminent SUDEP. We used a rat model of kainic acid-induced seizures in combination with pharmacological suppression of metabolic adenosine clearance to trigger seizure-induced death in tracheostomized rats. Recordings of EEG, blood pressure, and phrenic nerve activity were made concomitant to the seizure. We found suppression of phrenic nerve burst frequency to 58.9% of baseline (p < 0.001, one-way ANOVA) which preceded seizure-induced death; importantly, irregularities of phrenic nerve activity were partly reversible by the adenosine receptor antagonist caffeine. Suppression of phrenic nerve activity may be a useful biomarker for imminent SUDEP. The ability to reliably detect the onset of SUDEP may be instrumental in the timely administration of potentially lifesaving interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108405
StatePublished - Feb 15 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


  • Adenosine
  • Epilepsy
  • Phrenic nerve activity
  • Seizures
  • Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy


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