A review of ancillary tests in evaluating brain death

Can J Neurol Sci. 2008 Sep;35(4):409-19. doi: 10.1017/s0317167100009069.


The neurological determination of death (NDD) is primarily considered to be clinical. However, situations may arise where confounding factors make this clinical assessment difficult or impossible. As a result, ancillary tests have been developed in order to aid in the confirmation of brain death. As assessment of neuronal electrical activity; electroencephalography (EEG) is no longer recommended in this determination, tools assessing cerebral perfusion, as reflected by the presence or absence of cerebral blood flow (CBF), are the mainstay of NDD. The preferred ancillary test currently is Hexamethylpropylene amine oxime-single photon emission computed tomography (HMPAO SPECT) radionuclide angiography. When this is not available, or is equivocal, 4-vessel cerebral angiography can be used to determine the presence or absence of intracranial blood flow. However, as cerebral angiography has its own limitations, other techniques are sought by physicians in the Intensive Care and Neuro-intensive Care settings to replace cerebral angiography. In this article, we briefly review the history of diagnosis of brain death, pathophysiologic issues in making this determination, and currently available CBF imaging techniques, discussing each in turn with respect to their utility in the diagnosis of brain death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Death / diagnosis*
  • Brain Death / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Neurological* / statistics & numerical data
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Neurological* / trends
  • Humans
  • Regional Blood Flow