The circumstances surrounding SUDEP suggest autonomic or respiratory collapse, implying central failure of regulation or recovery. Characterisation of the communication among brain areas mediating such processes may shed light on mechanisms and noninvasively indicate risk. We used rs-fMRI to examine network properties among brain structures in people with epilepsy who suffered SUDEP (n = 8) over an 8-year follow-up period, compared with matched high- and low-risk subjects (n = 16/group) who did not suffer SUDEP during that period, and a group of healthy controls (n = 16). Network analysis was employed to explore connectivity within a ‘regulatory-subnetwork’ of brain regions involved in autonomic and respiratory regulation, and over the whole-brain. Modularity, the extent of network organization into separate modules, was significantly reduced in the regulatory-subnetwork, and the whole-brain, in SUDEP and high-risk. Increased participation, a local measure of inter-modular belonging, was evident in SUDEP and high-risk groups, particularly among thalamic structures. The medial prefrontal thalamus was increased in SUDEP compared with all other control groups, including high-risk. Patterns of hub topology were similar in SUDEP and high-risk, but were more extensive in low-risk patients, who displayed greater hub prevalence and a radical reorganization of hubs in the subnetwork. SUDEP is associated with reduced functional organization among cortical and sub-cortical brain regions mediating autonomic and respiratory regulation. Living high-risk subjects demonstrated similar patterns, suggesting such network measures may provide prospective risk-indicating value, though a crucial difference between SUDEP and high-risk was altered connectivity of the medial thalamus in SUDEP, which was also elevated compared with all sub-groups. Disturbed thalamic connectivity may reflect a potential non-invasive marker of elevated SUDEP risk.
LA, A., RM, H., M, G., R, K., JA, O., SB, V., … B, D. (2019). Altered brain connectivity in sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) revealed using resting-state fMRI. NeuroImage: Clinical, 24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2019.102060