Determining the time of death by morphological and immunohistochemical evaluation of collagen fibers in postmortem gingival tissues.


Department of Medical and Surgery Sciences, University di Bologna, Bologna, Italy. Electronic address: [Email]


The estimation of the post mortem interval (PMI) is still one of the most challenging variables to determine and the different approaches currently used in its estimation generally yield to large post mortem windows. In the present study we combined morphological and immunohistochemical analysis in order to reach a more detailed knowledge on tissue organization and degradation after death. Ultrastructural cellular changes and the extracellular matrix of gingival tissues, collected at different post mortem intervals, were observed by a Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), in combination with the immunohistochemical detection of extracellular matrix proteins (i.e. collagen type I and collagen type III) as potential post mortem biochemical markers. The final goal was to find a correlation between morphological modifications, biomarkers expression and the time of death. Samples of gingival tissues obtained from 10 cadavers at different post mortem intervals (short post mortem interval, 1-3 days; mid post mortem interval, 4-6 days; long post mortem interval, 7-9 days) were processed for light microscopy and TEM and they were also immunostained with anti-collagen type I and type III antibodies. Results showed gradual degradation of extracellular matrix in the suboral connective tissue in relation to the different time of death. Moreover PMI was related to an increase of nuclear chromatin condensation and cytoplasmic vacuolization both in epithelial and connective tissues. In conclusion, in addition to traditional forensic approaches to estimate PMI, the combined analyses of cellular morphology, ultrastructure and immunohistochemical expression of collagen proteins allow to better infer the PMI.


Collagen fibers,Gingival tissues,Immunohistochemistry,Post mortem interval,Ultrastructural morphological changes,