Scintigraphy as a confirmatory test of brain death

Semin Nucl Med. 2003 Oct;33(4):312-23. doi: 10.1016/s0001-2998(03)00034-5.


The concept of "brain death" was introduced to medicine in the second half of the 20th century, when technological advancements began to allow sustaining cardiorespiratory functioning of the body in the absence of brain function. Although physicians generally agree that a patient can be declared brain dead when the loss of brain function is total and irreversible, different approaches have been taken to define what constitutes brain death. A thorough clinical examination is essential to the diagnosis. The role of confirmatory tests differ among countries in the world but generally are indicated when a specific part of the clinical examination cannot be performed or is deemed unreliable. Under certain circumstances, confirmatory tests can be used to shorten the clinical observation. Of the confirmatory tests recommended by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Academy of Pediatrics, cerebral scintigraphy is a safe, reliable, and widely available alternative. Once the radiopharmaceutical is properly compounded, cerebral scintigraphy can be performed rapidly and can be interpreted in a straightforward manner. It is tolerant of metabolic aberrations and pharmacologic intoxicants. It is not affected by electrical interference, and the presence of skull defects or scalp trauma do not preclude its performance. The radiopharmaceuticals used in scintigraphy have no deleterious effects on potential donor organs. Cerebral radionuclide angiography has been highly sensitive. Either cerebral planar scintigraphy or cerebral scintitomography with Tc-99m hexamethylpropyleneamineoxime also are highly sensitive, but, in addition, appear to be 100% specific.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Death / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Death / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • Radionuclide Imaging / methods*
  • Radionuclide Imaging / standards*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Technetium Tc 99m Exametazime*
  • United States


  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • Technetium Tc 99m Exametazime