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Metabolomics of post-mortem blood: identifying potential markers of post-mortem interval


Death results in changes in some metabolites in body tissues due to lack of circulating oxygen, altered enzymatic reactions, cellular degradation, and cessation of anabolic production of metabolites and macromolecules. Metabolic changes may provide chemical markers to better determine the time since death (post-mortem interval), something that is challenging to establish with current observation-based methodologies. The aim of this research was to carry out a metabolic analysis of blood plasma post-mortem, in order to gain a more complete understanding of the biochemical changes that occur following death. Gas chromatography was used to conduct a survey of post-mortem rat blood. Sixty six metabolites were detected post-mortem. Twenty six of these [18 amino acids, glutathione (GSH), 4-Amino-n-butyric acid (GABA), glyoxylate, oxalate, hydroxyproline, creatinine, α-ketoglutarate and succinate] had increased concentrations post-mortem. The remaining 40 metabolites had concentrations that were not dependant on time. This study demonstrates the range of metabolic changes that occur post-mortem as well as identifying potential markers for estimating post-mortem interval.

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The authors wish to thank Dr. Stephen Cordiner, (ESR, Porirua) and Dr. Rachel Fleming (ESR, Mt Albert) for their kind suggestions and useful comments throughout the course of this study, Dr. Silas Villas-Boas, Margarita Markovskaya and Dung Nguyen from the University of Auckland for the assistance and technical support throughout the GC–MS analysis, and Dr. John Schofield, Lesley Schofield and Dave Matthews at the University of Otago, for the handling and euthanasia of the rats used in this study. Andrea Donaldson was supported by a Te Tipu Putaiao PhD Scholarship from The Ministry of Science and Innovation, Wellington, New Zealand.

Conflict of interest

Author Andrea Donaldson and author Iain Lamont declare that they have no conflict of interest with the organization that supported the research.

Informed consent statement

All institutional and national guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals were followed. No human studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

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Correspondence to A. E. Donaldson or I. L. Lamont.

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 28 kb)


Supplementary material 2 (EPS 85 kb) Changes in the concentrations of glyoxylate, oxalate and hydroxyproline post-mortem. The relative concentrations shown on a log scale are averages of blood from four rats with standard deviations shown


Supplementary material 3 (EPS 90 kb) Changes in the concentrations of α-ketoglutarate, succinate and fumarate post-mortem. The relative concentrations shown on a log scale are averages of blood from four rats with standard deviations shown


Supplementary material 4 (EPS 76 kb) Changes in the concentrations of creatinine and lactate post-mortem. The relative concentrations shown on a log scale are averages of blood from four rats with standard deviations shown

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Donaldson, A.E., Lamont, I.L. Metabolomics of post-mortem blood: identifying potential markers of post-mortem interval. Metabolomics 11, 237–245 (2015).

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  • Post-mortem interval
  • Biochemical markers
  • Blood metabolites
  • Hypoxia
  • GC–MS
  • Forensic science
  • Amino acids