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Keywords:

  • Agonal state;
  • Autopsy;
  • Gene expression;
  • Human brain;
  • Postmortem;
  • Ribonucleic acid

Abstract: Many potentially valuable techniques for the understanding of human neurobiological and neuropathological processes require the use of RNA obtained from postmortem tissue. As with earlier neurochemical studies, there are two particular problems posed by such tissue in comparison with tissue from experimental animals. These are the postmortem interval and the condition of the patient prior to death, referred to as the agonal state. We review the nature and extent of the effects of postmortem interval and agonal state on RNA in brain tissue, with particular reference to the study of neuropsychiatric disorders. Perhaps surprisingly, postmortem interval has at most a modest effect on RNA. Abundant intact and biologically active RNA is present in tissue frozen 36 h or more after death. Postmortem interval does not account for the marked variability observed among human brains in all RNA parameters. Despite the overall stability of RNA after death, some evidence suggests that individual RNAs may undergo postmortem decay. Less attention has been paid to the effects of agonal state. The existing data indicate that events in the premortem period such as hypoxia and coma can affect the amount of some messenger RNAs. The nature of agonal state influences depends on the messenger RNA in question, though the basis for this selective vulnerability is unknown. No agonal state effect on overall RNA level or activity has been found. The data show that postmortem brain tissue can be used for RNA research. However, considerable attention must be paid to controlling for the influences of pre-and postmortem factors, especially when quantitative analyses are performed.