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Why Christian Eriksen collapsed in the Euro soccer game

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The world was shocked by Images of Danish footballer Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch during the recent European Championships.  But how could a fit 29-year-old suddenly suffer a heart malfunction?

Sudden cardiac episodes aren’t so rare: they account for 15 percent of all deaths in the West, and they can happen ‘out of the blue’ to seemingly healthy people who have no history of heart problems.

Two things need to happen to spark a cardiac episode, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered.  Cardiac sodium channels, proteins in the membrane of heart cells that help keep the heart beating, suddenly stop functioning correctly, but that on its own may not cause the heart to stop.  For that to happen, there also has to be a chemical modification—known as phosphorylation—going on at the same time.

Combined, the genetic mutation and a chemical modification are enough to cause the heart to suddenly stop.

It’s a breakthrough discovery.  “We did not know why the protein suddenly stops functioning correctly after working seemingly normally for years,” explained researcher Stephan Pless.

Phosphorylation can be caused by stress, disease or by prescription drugs, the researchers say.

(Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 e 025320118)

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