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Is there recent progress in the estimation of the postmortem interval by means of thanatochemistry?

Forensic Science International
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2005.01.013
  • Estimation Of The Time Since Death
  • Postmortem Chemistry
  • Potassium
  • Hypoxanthine
  • Vitreous Humor
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Dna Degradation
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Capillary Electrophoresis
  • Chemistry


Abstract Numerous methods have been proposed in the last 60 years for the determination of the time since death by chemical means. Many of them were reviewed by Schleyer in his monograph on the determination of the time since death by means of thanatochemistry about 40 years ago and none of these early methods has gained any practical value since they do not meet the demands in practice (being precise, reliable, giving an immediate result). While the earlier studies were mainly carried out on blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) since the late 60s most investigations have been performed on vitreous humor (VH). This is mainly due to the fact that vitreous humor is topographically isolated and well protected, and thus, autolytic changes proceed slower compared to blood and CSF. The most studied parameter in VH is potassium and even nowadays reports on the postmortem rise of vitreous potassium are published, proposing new analytical methods or statistical evaluations. Chemical parameters studied for the determination of the time since death have to be differentiated according to the underlying process (catabolism, metabolic processes, pure autolysis and diffusion, putrefactive changes). In the present paper, recent studies on thanatochemistry are discussed regarding the underlying process, the analytical methods (for instance H magnetic resonance spectroscopy ( 1H MR spectroscopy), immunohistochemistry), the studied fluid compartment, the statistical evaluation and the precision of death time estimation. The value of chemical methods for the determination of the time since death is up to now very limited. This is supported by the fact that field studies on the reliability and precision of death time estimation by chemical means are still scarce in the literature.

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