Diffusion as a mechanism of postmortem drug redistribution: an experimental study in rats

Int J Legal Med. 1992;105(2):87-91. doi: 10.1007/BF02340830.


In some cases of drug overdose there is a reservoir of unabsorbed drug in the stomach and gut. Furthermore, agonal aspiration might establish a second reservoir in the lungs. Two experimental rat models were used to study if diffusion from these reservoirs could contribute to the phenomenon of postmortem drug redistribution. Overnight fasted rats were sacrificed by CO2 and 75 mg of amitriptyline (AMI) was administered by a gastric tube. In the first series (n = 19), the tubes were removed after AMI administration. In the second series (n = 17), the trachea was ligated and cut prior to drug administration to prevent airways contamination. The rats were left at room temperature on their back for a period of 5, 10, 24, 48, 96 up to 192 h and samples of heart blood, blood from the inferior vena cava, tissue samples from heart, lungs, different liver lobes, kidney and psoas muscle were taken. In both series of rats we observed that as early as 5 h postmortem increasing concentrations of amitriptyline were found in the liver lobes lying closest to the stomach. In rats where the trachea was not ligated, drug contamination of the lungs also resulted in an increase in drug concentration within 5 h in heart blood and heart muscle. In rats where the trachea had been ligated, amitriptyline was found in the lungs after 96 h postmortem. The main metabolite nortriptyline was also detected.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Amitriptyline / chemistry
  • Amitriptyline / pharmacokinetics
  • Amitriptyline / poisoning*
  • Animals
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Forensic Medicine / methods*
  • Forensic Medicine / standards
  • Kidney / chemistry
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Lung / chemistry
  • Male
  • Myocardium / chemistry
  • Poisoning / blood
  • Poisoning / metabolism*
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Psoas Muscles / chemistry
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Trachea / surgery


  • Amitriptyline