Although relatively uncommon, pathologists may encounter minimal inflammatory foci in the absence of typical structural heart disease; however, the clinicopathological significance of minimal inflammatory foci, including correlation with sudden unexpected death, is unexplored. From 1072 serial autopsy subjects, cases with unexplained minimal inflammatory foci, the extent of which was under 1% of the whole examined ventricle, were extracted to exclude cases with borderline/focal myocarditis resulting from local, systemic infection, or autoimmune mechanisms. Immunohistochemistry and genetic analysis targeting viral genomes and heart disease-related genes using next generation sequencing were performed. We detected 10 cases with unexplained minimal inflammatory foci (five males, five females, aged 15–68 years). The cause and/or manner of death were sudden unexpected death (6 cases, 60%), sudden unexpected death with epilepsy (1 case, 10%), drowning in a hot bath (1 case, 10%), and suicide (2 cases, 20%). In none of these cases was pathogen-derived DNA or RNA detected. In 8 of the 10 cases (80%), 17 possible pathogenic genetic variants causative for arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy or dilated cardiomyopathy; DSP was the most frequently involved gene (three cases with two different variants), followed by LAMA4 and MYBPC3 (two cases, two variants for each gene), LDB3 (two cases, one variant), and the remaining 10 variants occurred in seven cases (DSC2, RYR2, SOS1, SCN5A, SGCD, LPL, PKP2, MYH11, GATA6, and DSG2). All mutations were missense mutations. DSP_Lys1581Glu and DSC2_p.Thr275Met were classified according to American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics consensus statement guidelines as pathogenic or likely pathogenic for arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy in three patients (30%). The remaining 15 variants were classified as potentially pathogenic variants. Unexplained minimal inflammatory foci may be an early sign of inherited cardiomyopathy, and such cases might already have arrhythmogenic potential that can lead to sudden unexpected death. Detection of minimal inflammatory foci by careful pathological examination may indicate the value of conducting comprehensive genetic analysis, even if significant structural abnormalities are not evident.
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The authors thank Ms. Tamae Sasakura, Mr. Noboru Onozuka, Ms. Syuko Matsumori, and Mr. Osamu Yamamoto for their technical assistance. We thank Jeremy Allen, Ph.D., from Edanz Group (www.edanzediting.com/ac) for editing a draft of this manuscript. This work was supported in part by JSPS KAKENHI Grant numbers JP18k10119 to YH and JP17k09263 to NN.