Histothanatology: Autolysis, Putrefaction, and Mummification

  • Reinhard B. Dettmeyer


Although the process of autolysis and putrefaction begins immediately after death and lasts until mummification of a body, histopathological examinations can be extremely useful depending on the diagnostic question at hand. Firstly, macroscopically undetectable causes of death, such as acute myocardial infarction, may still be readily detectable using histology if the immunohistochemical necrosis marker used is relatively resistant to autolysis, as is the case with the marker C5b-9. Attempts are also made to use the histological and immunohistochemical detection of structures and antigens for an approximate determination of the time of death, despite the fact that this approach is viewed critically due to numerous factors that can affect the reliability of results. In the case of mummification, a certain degree of preservation may permit disease-relevant findings to be determined histopathologically for a relatively long period of time. Moreover, in cases where it is important to establish what a deceased individual last ate prior to death, microscopic analysis of the gastric contents can be helpful depending on the state of preservation and type of food ingested, as well as its microstructure.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Reinhard B. Dettmeyer
    • 1
  1. 1.University Hospital Giessen Institute of Forensic MedicineGiessenGermany

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