Quantitative evidence of suppressed TMEM119 microglial immunohistochemistry in fatal morphine intoxications

Int J Legal Med. 2021 Nov;135(6):2315-2322. doi: 10.1007/s00414-021-02699-5. Epub 2021 Sep 22.


The aim of this pilot study was to investigate the diagnostic potential of TMEM119 as a useful microglia-specific marker in combination with immunostainings for phagocytic function and infiltrating capacity of monocytes in cases of lethal monosubstance intoxications by morphine (MOR), methamphetamine (METH), and of ethanol-associated death (ETH) respectively. Human brain tissue samples were obtained from forensic autopsies of cases with single substance abuse (MOR, n = 8; ETH, n = 10; METH, n = 9) and then compared to a cohort of cardiovascular fatalities as controls (n = 9). Brain tissue samples of cortex, white matter, and hippocampus were collected and stained immunohistochemically with antibodies against TMEM119, CD68KiM1P, and CCR2. We could document the lowest density of TMEM119-positive cells in MOR deaths with highly significant differences to the control densities in all three regions investigated. In ETH and METH deaths, the expression of TMEM119 was comparable to cell densities in controls. The results indicate that the immunoreaction in brain tissue is different in these groups depending on the drug type used for abuse.

Keywords: Drug abuse; Forensic neuropathology; Immunohistochemistry; Microglia; Neuroinflammation; Neurotoxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Methamphetamine*
  • Microglia* / metabolism
  • Morphine
  • Pilot Projects


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Tmem119 protein, human
  • Methamphetamine
  • Morphine