Volumetric and microstructural abnormalities of the amygdala in focal epilepsy with varied levels of SUDEP risk

Antoine Legouhy*, Luke A. Allen, Sjoerd B. Vos, Joana F.A. Oliveira, Michalis Kassinopoulos, Gavin P. Winston, John S. Duncan, Jennifer A. Ogren, Catherine Scott, Rajesh Kumar, Samden D. Lhatoo, Maria Thom, Louis Lemieux, Ronald M. Harper, Hui Zhang, Beate Diehl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Although the mechanisms of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) are not yet well understood, generalised- or focal-to-bilateral tonic-clonic seizures (TCS) are a major risk factor. Previous studies highlighted alterations in structures linked to cardio-respiratory regulation; one structure, the amygdala, was enlarged in people at high risk of SUDEP and those who subsequently died. We investigated volume changes and the microstructure of the amygdala in people with epilepsy at varied risk for SUDEP since that structure can play a key role in triggering apnea and mediating blood pressure. The study included 53 healthy subjects and 143 patients with epilepsy, the latter separated into two groups according to whether TCS occur in years before scan. We used amygdala volumetry, derived from structural MRI, and tissue microstructure, derived from diffusion MRI, to identify differences between the groups. The diffusion metrics were obtained by fitting diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) models. The analyses were performed at the whole amygdala level and at the scale of amygdaloid nuclei. Patients with epilepsy showed larger amygdala volumes and lower neurite density indices (NDI) than healthy subjects; the left amygdala volumes were especially enhanced. Microstructural changes, reflected by NDI differences, were more prominent on the left side and localized in the lateral, basal, central, accessory basal and paralaminar amygdala nuclei; basolateral NDI lowering appeared bilaterally. No significant microstructural differences appeared between epilepsy patients with and without current TCS. The central amygdala nuclei, with prominent interactions from surrounding nuclei of that structure, project to cardiovascular regions and respiratory phase switching areas of the parabrachial pons, as well as to the periaqueductal gray. Consequently, they have the potential to modify blood pressure and heart rate, and induce sustained apnea or apneusis. The findings here suggest that lowered NDI, indicative of reduced dendritic density, could reflect an impaired structural organization influencing descending inputs that modulate vital respiratory timing and drive sites and areas critical for blood pressure control.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107139
JournalEpilepsy Research
Publication statusPublished - May 2023
Externally publishedYes

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  • Amygdala
  • Diffusion MRI
  • Tonic-clonic seizures


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