Postmortem MRI of human brain hemispheres: T2 relaxation times during formaldehyde fixation

Magn Reson Med. 2009 Apr;61(4):810-8. doi: 10.1002/mrm.21909.


Unlike in vivo imaging, postmortem MRI allows for invasive examination of the tissue specimen immediately after the MR scan. However, natural tissue decomposition and chemical fixation cause the postmortem tissue's MRI properties to be different from those found in vivo. Moreover, these properties change as postmortem fixation time elapses. The goal of this study was to characterize the T(2) relaxation changes that occur over time in cadaveric human brain hemispheres during fixation. Five hemispheres immersed in formaldehyde solution were scanned on a weekly basis for 3 months postmortem, and once again at 6 months postmortem. The T(2) relaxation times were measured throughout the hemispheres. Over time, T(2) values near the edges of the hemispheres decreased rapidly after death, while T(2) values of deep tissue decreased more slowly. This difference is likely due to the relatively large distance from the hemisphere surface, and other barriers limiting diffusion of formaldehyde molecules to deep tissues. In addition, T(2) values in deep tissue did not continuously decay to a plateau, but instead reached a minimum and then increased to a plateau. This final increase may be due to the effects of prolonged tissue decomposition, a hypothesis that is supported by numerical simulations of the fixation process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Fixatives / pharmacology
  • Formaldehyde / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Postmortem Changes*


  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde