Seizure‐related apneas have an inconsistent linkage to amygdala seizure spread



Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is a frequent cause of death in epilepsy. Respiratory dysfunction is implicated as a critical factor in SUDEP pathophysiology. Human studies have shown that electrical stimulation of the amygdala resulted in apnea, indicating that the amygdala has a role in respiration control. Unilateral amygdala stimulation resulted in immediate onset of respiratory dysfunction occurring only during nose breathing. In small numbers of patients, some but not all spontaneous seizures resulted in apnea occurring shortly after seizure spread to the amygdala. With this study we aimed to determine whether seizure onset or spread to the amygdala was necessary and sufficient to cause apnea.


We investigated the temporal relationship between apnea/hypopnea (AH) onset and initial seizure involvement within the amygdala in patients with implanted depth electrodes.


Data from 17 patients (11 female) with 47 seizures were analyzed. With seven seizures (three patients), AH preceded amygdala seizure involvement by 2 to 55 seconds. There was no AH with four seizures (three patients) that involved the amygdala. With eight seizures (four patients) AH occurred within 2 seconds following amygdala seizure onset. With 28 seizures, AH started >2 seconds after amygdala seizure onset (range 3‐158 seconds). Following seizure onset, there was a significant difference between AH onset time and amygdala seizure onset (P < .001). The mean ± standard deviation (SD) AH onset was 27.8 ± 41.06 seconds, and the mean time to amygdala involvement was 8.83 ± 20.19 seconds.


There is a wide range of AH onset times relative to amygdala seizure involvement. With some seizures, amygdala seizure involvement occurs without AH. With other seizures, AH precedes amygdala seizures, suggesting that, with spontaneous seizures, involvement of the amygdala may not be crucial to induction of AH with all seizures. Other pathophysiology impacting brainstem respiratory networks may be of greater relevance to seizure‐triggered apneas.