Biochemical and molecular studies using human autopsy brain tissue

J Neurochem. 2003 May;85(3):543-62. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.2003.01747.x.


The use of human brain tissue obtained at autopsy for neurochemical, pharmacological and physiological analyses is reviewed. RNA and protein samples have been found suitable for expression profiling by techniques that include RT-PCR, cDNA microarrays, western blotting, immunohistochemistry and proteomics. The rapid development of molecular biological techniques has increased the impetus for this work to be applied to studies of brain disease. It has been shown that most nucleic acids and proteins are reasonably stable post-mortem. However, their abundance and integrity can exhibit marked intra- and intercase variability, making comparisons between case-groups difficult. Variability can reveal important functional and biochemical information. The correct interpretation of neurochemical data must take into account such factors as age, gender, ethnicity, medicative history, immediate ante-mortem status, agonal state and post-mortem and post-autopsy intervals. Here we consider issues associated with the sampling of DNA, RNA and proteins using human autopsy brain tissue in relation to various ante- and post-mortem factors. We conclude that valid and practical measures of a variety of parameters may be made in human brain tissue, provided that specific factors are controlled.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Cryopreservation
  • DNA / analysis
  • Enzyme Stability
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Proteins / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Specimen Handling


  • Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • DNA