Ethanol in muscle - ?
July 12, 2008 2:00 PM   Subscribe

(Toxicology) A postmortem toxicological exam detected ethanol in muscle, but from sources other than ingestion.

No ethanol or drugs were detected in the liver.

?? - Can a toxicology expert help me read between the lines, or provide some context? What's going on? How can this happen? How sensitive, specific, or reliable are these tests?
posted by coffeefilter to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
Best answer: I am by no means an expert on the subject but I vaguely recall that interpreting ethanol concentrations in post-mortem tissues may be tricky. I think it's complicated by the fact that after death, depending on how and how quickly a body is preserved, tissue (or more accurately microbes within tissues) may begin to produce ethanol and other metabolites. Again, just a hunch.
posted by drpynchon at 2:26 PM on July 12, 2008

Best answer: Not a toxicologist (but I do watch a lot of CSI ;) ) - does this help?

During the investigation of aviation accidents, postmortem samples obtained from fatal accident victims are submitted to the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute for toxicological analysis. During toxicological evaluations, ethanol analysis is performed on all cases. Many species of bacteria, yeast and fungi have the ability to produce ethanol and other volatile organic compounds in postmortem specimens. The potential for postmortem ethanol formation complicates the interpretation of ethanol-positive results from accident victims. Therefore, the prevention of ethanol formation at all steps following specimen collection is a priority. Sodium fluoride is the most commonly used preservative for postmortem specimens.
posted by missmagenta at 4:13 PM on July 12, 2008

Anaerobic respiration in human muscles produces ethanol, among other things. Anaerobic means "without oxygen," though I'm not sure it requires something as drastic as drowning or strangulation... I think muscles do it simply as a function of working hard. (I am not a doctor/chemist/CSI watcher)
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 4:19 PM on July 12, 2008

Wouldn't enzyme activity in the liver continue to break down ethanol after death? At least for a while?
posted by Class Goat at 4:31 PM on July 12, 2008

What about an alcohol (ethanol) enema?
posted by Netzapper at 8:47 PM on July 12, 2008

Netzapper: That'd presumably leave ethanol in the liver to the same extent that ethanol by mouth would.
posted by hattifattener at 10:38 PM on July 12, 2008

Response by poster: The Talented Amateurs have proved more than capable.

So, reading between the lines, we get:

Postmortem tox detected ethanol. However, we believe it was produced postmortem by microbes, or possibly was an artifact of other imperfections in the preservation process between the time of death and the tox exam, which occurred weeks later. Lack of ethanol in the liver supports this conclusion. The subject was not drunk, or even drinking. Alcohol was no factor.



C.G. - probably, but the liver would run out of energy, and also there'd be no circulation.

N.z. - not a bad thought, especially since I didn't provide any context, but as h.f. says, ethanol would enter the bloodstream, where it would be transported to the liver (and muscle, brain, etc.); similarly inhalation is ruled out

G.0 - probably not to a detectable level for these tests, but I'm no expert ... or talented amateur
posted by coffeefilter at 12:50 PM on July 13, 2008

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