Can renal acute tubular necrosis be differentiated from autolysis at autopsy?

J Forensic Sci. 2009 Mar;54(2):439-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2008.00956.x.


We investigate the morphological characteristics that may differentiate between ischemic acute tubular necrosis (ATN) and autolysis in postmortem samples. Renal tissue from 57 postmortem cases with an antemortem diagnosis of ATN and 57 age-/sex-matched control cases were examined for 10 morphological characteristics: epithelial proliferation (Ki-67 immunoperoxidase positivity), fibrin thrombi, tubular epithelial whorls, mitoses, casts, autolysis, tubulorrhexis, epithelial flattening, interstitial inflammation, and interstitial expansion. Tubular epithelial whorls were found in 16 ATN cases and were absent in controls. These findings suggest that specific morphological criteria may distinguish ischemic ATN from autolysis. Diagnoses of ATN may be confirmed using these combined criteria as contributing to cause of death and/or to ascertain previously undiagnosed cases of ATN postmortem.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fibrin / metabolism
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology
  • Kidney Tubular Necrosis, Acute / pathology*
  • Kidney Tubules / pathology
  • Male
  • Microscopy
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Thrombosis / pathology
  • Young Adult


  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Fibrin