Introduction. In forensic pathology the autolytic process has been observed and documented in order to determine the postmortem interval as accurately as possible. The observation and experiments have been carried out on cadavers exposed to environmental conditions – heat, humidity, air currents, soil, water.
Methods. For this study hematoxylin and eosin (HE) stained sections of organ samples from 30 autopsied bodies were examined under the microscope. Modifications of tissue and cell structures were noted in correlation with the bodies’ time spent in the Morgue’s mortuary refrigerator until the autopsy was performed, which varied between 24 hours and 22 days.
Results. All the organs sampled (lung, heart, liver and pancreas) showed severe autolytic alterations after 5 to 8 days. The most heavily affected was the pancreas, cells within Langherhans islets becoming complete autolyzed at the 36 hours mark. Inside organs, autolytic processes occur at different rates depending on the locations within that organ –deeply or superficial; in the heart after 4 or more days subendocardic myocardium shows less severe autolytic changes than the subepicardial one.
Conclusion. Autolytic processes have a delayed onset and a much lower progression rate in a cold controlled environment. Different organs suffer different rates of autolysis in correlation to their structure and enzymatic content.
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