Postmortem Biochemistry: Current Applications

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The results of biochemical analyses in specimens obtained postmortem may aid death investigation when diabetic and alcoholic ketoacidosis is suspected, when death may have been the result of drowning, anaphylaxis, or involved a prolonged stress response such as hypothermia, and in the diagnosis of disease processes such as inflammation, early myocardial infarction, or sepsis. There is often cross-over with different disciplines, in particular with clinical and forensic toxicology, since some endogenous substances such as sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and insulin can be used as poisons. The interpretation of results is often complicated because of the likelihood of postmortem change in analyte concentration or activity, and proper interpretation must take into account all the available evidence. The unpredictability of postmortem changes means that use of biochemical measurements in time of death estimation has little value. The use of vitreous humour is beneficial for many analytes as the eye is in a physically protected environment, this medium may be less affected by autolysis or microbial metabolism than blood, and the assays can be performed with due precaution using standard clinical chemistry analysers. However, interpretation of results may not be straightforward because (i) defined reference ranges in life are often lacking, (ii) there is a dearth of knowledge regarding, for example, the speed of equilibration of many analytes between blood, vitreous humour, and other fluids that may be sampled, and (iii) the effects of post-mortem change are difficult to quantify because of the lack of control data. A major limitation is that postmortem vitreous glucose measurements are of no help in diagnosing antemortem hypoglycaemia.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal Of Forensic And Legal Medicine
Early online date19 Apr 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Apr 2016


  • ‘forensic biochemistry’
  • ‘postmortem’
  • ‘death investigation’
  • ‘vitreous humour’
  • ‘glucose’
  • ‘potassium’
  • ‘alternative matrices’
  • ‘ketoacidosis’
  • ‘drowning’
  • ‘anaphylaxis’
  • ‘hypothermia’


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