International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 127, Issue 2, pp 437–445 | Cite as

Differentiation at autopsy between in vivo gas embolism and putrefaction using gas composition analysis

  • Yara Bernaldo de Quirós
  • Oscar González-Díaz
  • Andreas Møllerløkken
  • Alf O. Brubakk
  • Astrid Hjelde
  • Pedro Saavedra
  • Antonio FernándezEmail author
Original Article


Gas embolism can arise from different causes (iatrogenic accidents, criminal interventions, or diving related accidents). Gas analyses have been shown to be a valid technique to differentiate between putrefaction gases and gas embolism. In this study, we performed systematic necropsies at different postmortem times in three experimental New Zealand White Rabbits models: control or putrefaction, infused air embolism, and compression/decompression. The purpose of this study was to look for qualitative and quantitative differences among groups and to observe how putrefaction gases mask in vivo gas embolism. We found that the infused air embolism and compression/decompression models had a similar gas composition prior to 27-h postmortem, being typically composed of around 70–80 % of N2 and 20–30 % of CO2, although unexpected higher CO2 concentrations were found in some decompressed animals, putting in question the role of CO2 in decompression. All these samples were statistically and significantly different from more decomposed samples. Gas composition of samples from more decomposed animals and from the putrefaction model presented hydrogen, which was therefore considered as a putrefaction marker.


Putrefaction Gas embolism Decompression Gas composition Nitrogen 



The authors would like to thank all colleagues from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain) who contributed to this work and to the hyperbaric medicine division of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway) for its scientific contribution. We would also like to thank Dr. Jose Luis Martín Barrasa for his help during the animal experiments at the Unit of Research of the Negrín Hospital in Spain. This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation with two research projects, (AGL 2005-07947) and (CGL 2009/12663), as well as the Government of Canary Islands (DG Medio Natural). The Spanish Ministry of Education contributed with personal financial support (the University Professor Formation fellowship). The Central Norway Regional Health Authority and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology supported additionally the hyperbaric experiment. Finally, The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Marine Mammal Centre and Wick and Sloan Simmons provided funding for the latest stage of this work.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Animal welfare

The study was performed in accordance with all EU applicable laws, regulations, and standards, obtaining the corresponding approval from the different ethical committees.

Supplementary material

414_2012_783_Fig6_ESM.jpg (33 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 1

Intestinal gas sample composition from the putrefaction model vs. PM time illustrating the contribution of each gas to the total amount in percentage μmol. (JPEG 33 kb)

414_2012_783_MOESM1_ESM.tif (433 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 432 kb)
414_2012_783_Fig7_ESM.jpg (38 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 2

Intestinal gas sample composition from the AE model vs. PM time illustrating the contribution of each gas to the total amount in percentage μmol. (JPEG 37 kb)

414_2012_783_MOESM2_ESM.tif (490 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 489 kb)
414_2012_783_Fig8_ESM.jpg (26 kb)
Supplemental Fig. 3

Intestinal gas sample composition from the compression/decompression model vs. PM time illustrating the contribution of each gas to the total amount in percentage μmol. (JPEG 26 kb)

414_2012_783_MOESM3_ESM.tif (409 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 408 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yara Bernaldo de Quirós
    • 1
    • 5
  • Oscar González-Díaz
    • 2
  • Andreas Møllerløkken
    • 3
  • Alf O. Brubakk
    • 3
  • Astrid Hjelde
    • 3
  • Pedro Saavedra
    • 4
  • Antonio Fernández
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Veterinary Histology and Pathology, Department of Morphology, Institute of Animal Health, Veterinary SchoolUniversity of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC)Las PalmasSpain
  2. 2.Physical and Chemical Instrumental Center for the Development of Applied Research Technology and Scientific estate (CIDIA), Edificio Polivalente 1University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC)Las PalmasSpain
  3. 3.Department of Circulation and Medical ImagingNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  4. 4.Department of MathematicsUniversity of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC)Las PalmasSpain
  5. 5.Biology DepartmentWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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