• congenital abnormality;
  • fetal death;
  • MRI;
  • needle biopsy;
  • postmortem imaging;
  • prenatal ultrasound;
  • stillbirth;
  • termination of pregnancy



Autopsy is an important investigation following fetal death or termination for fetal abnormality. Postmortem magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide macroscopic information of comparable quality to that of conventional autopsy in the event of perinatal death. It does not provide tissue for histological examination, which may limit the quality of counseling for recurrence risks and elucidation of the cause of death. We sought to examine the comparability and clinical value of a combination of postmortem MRI and percutaneous fetal organ biopsies (minimally invasive autopsy (MIA)) with conventional fetal autopsy.


Forty-four fetuses underwent postmortem MRI and attempted percutaneous biopsy (using surface landmarks) of major fetal organs (liver, lung, heart, spleen, kidney, adrenal and thymus) following fetal death or termination for abnormality, prior to conventional autopsy, which was considered the ‘gold standard’. We compared significant findings of the two examinations for both diagnostic information and clinical significance. Ancillary investigations (such as radiographs and placental histology) were regarded as common to the two forms of autopsy.


In 21 cases conventional autopsy provided superior diagnostic information to that of MIA. In two cases the MIA provided superior diagnostic information to that of conventional autopsy, when autolysis prevented detailed examination of the fetal brain. In the remaining 21 cases, conventional autopsy and MIA provided equivalent diagnostic information. With regard to clinical significance, however, in 32 (72.7%) cases, the MIA provided information of at least equivalent clinical significance to that of conventional autopsy. In no case did the addition of percutaneous biopsies reveal information of additional clinical significance.


Although in some cases MRI may provide additional information, conventional perinatal autopsy remains the gold standard for the investigation of fetal death. The utility of adding percutaneous organ biopsies, without imaging guidance, to an MRI-based fetal autopsy remains unproven. Postmortem MRI, combined with ancillary investigations such as placental histology, external examination by a pathologist, cytogenetics and plain radiography provided information of equivalent clinical significance in the majority of cases. Copyright © 2011 ISUOG. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.