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Usability of Immunohistochemistry in Forensic Samples With Varying Decomposition

Lesnikova, Iana, MD, PhD*; Schreckenbach, Marc Niclas, MS; Kristensen, Maria Pihlmann, MD; Papanikolaou, Liv Lindegaard, MSc§; Hamilton-Dutoit, Stephen, MD, FRCPath

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2018 - Volume 39 - Issue 3 - p 185–191
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000408
Original Articles

Immunohistochemistry (IHC) is an important diagnostic tool in anatomic and surgical pathology but is used less frequently in forensic pathology. Degradation of tissue because of postmortem decomposition is believed to be a major limiting factor, although it is unclear what impact such degradation actually has on IHC staining validity. This study included 120 forensic autopsy samples of liver, lung, and brain tissues obtained for diagnostic purposes. The time from death to autopsy ranged between 1 and more than 14 days. Samples were prepared using the tissue microarray technique. The antibodies chosen for the study included KL1 (for staining bile duct epithelium), S100 (for staining glial cells and myelin), vimentin (for endothelial cells in cerebral blood vessels), and CD45 (for pulmonary lymphocytes). Slides were evaluated by light microscopy. Immunohistochemistry reactions were scored according to a system based on the extent and intensity of the positive stain. An overall correlation between the postmortem interval and the IHC score for all tissue samples was found. Samples from decedents with a postmortem interval of 1 to 3 days showed positive staining with all antibodies, whereas samples from decedents with a longer postmortem interval showed decreased staining rates. Our results suggest that IHC analysis can be successfully used for postmortem diagnosis in a range of autopsy samples showing lesser degrees of decomposition.

From the *Department of Pathology, Vidant Medical Center, Greenville, NC,

RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany; and

Institute of Forensic Medicine, Aarhus University;

§Municipal Emergency Team;

Institute of Pathology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark.

Manuscript received November 16, 2017; accepted April 2, 2018.

No financial support was received for this work.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Iana Lesnikova, MD, PhD, Department of Pathology, Vidant Medical Center, 2100 Stantonsburg Rd, Greenville, NC 27834. E-mail:

© 2018 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.