The present study was designed to investigate whether the combination of vital dyes [calcein acetomethyl ester and ethidium homodimer (LIVE/DEAD(®) Viability/Cytoxicity Kit)] together with confocal laser scanning 3D microscopy was a suitable process to detect postmortem chondrocyte damage, and whether this process could be used to establish postmortem interval.
Human knee cartilage from 13 autopsies (postmortem interval from 1 day to 2.5 months) was incubated with the two dyes. The chondrocytes revealed intense staining according to their vitality. For those cases that were stored mainly at 4°C there was a vitality of approximately 88 to 96% within the first 4.5 days, which decreased to 58% after 6 days and to 9% after 1.5 months. After 2 days and 14 days at summer temperatures there were 70% and 8% vital chondrocytes respectively. Three of the 13 cases showed that altered body and storage conditions limited the efficacy of the method.
Initial data suggested a time and temperature dependent increase in cell breakdown. Under stable cooling conditions the use of vital dyes and confocal laser scanning 3D microscopy to measure chondrocyte loss may be a valuable tool for estimating the postmortem interval.
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