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Time matters: Common and expected postmortem computed tomography observations involving the cetacean brain

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Virtopsy, including postmortem computed tomography (PMCT), has been routinely incorporated in human forensics to identify space-occupying intracranial lesions, and to document the normal PMCT features of the central nervous system. In recent years, postmortem neuroimaging has been increasingly applied in marine mammals, particularly for cetacean stranding investigations. Given the various decomposition statuses of cetacean carcasses retrieved, and the rapid decomposition rate of the soft tissues, an understanding of the PMCT findings that reflect the normal decomposition process is essential to prevent misinterpretation of normal findings as pathologic processes. Our objective was to characterize the normal postmortem imaging findings of cetacean brains with the use of PMCT, and the effect of time in the appearance of these changes. PMCT brain images of 13 deceased cetaceans with no evidence of head trauma or central nervous system pathology, were retrospectively analyzed. Time from death/retrieval to PMCT examination varied from 45 minutes to 72 hours. Differentiation of the grey-white matter was still observed one hour after death, with the loss starting two hours postmortem. Normal postmortem intravascular blood distribution was not visualized in any animal, possibly due to the limited capability of PMCT to depict small collections of blood without the contrast administration. Effacement of the ventricles was observed in 5 animals (38.4%), while hyperattenuation of the vasculature was visualized in 3 (23%). Presence of intravascular gas was observed in 5 animals (38.4%) approximately 20 hours postmortem, but 8 hours postmortem in 1 animal, possibly related to improper preservation before the PMCT scanning. Time from death/retrieval to PMCT examination, as well as imaging exposure parameters, are important factors to consider for cetacean brain virtopsy assessment. This study serves as a baseline reference of PMCT brain appearance for clinical and postmortem diagnosis of cetacean central nervous system pathologies.

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Title24th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals<br/>
LocationPalm Beach County Convention Center 650 Okeechobee Blvd
CityWest Palm Beach
PlaceUnited States
Degree of recognitionInternational event