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Betz, P.; Nerlich, A.; Penning, R.; Eisenmenger, Wolfgang (1993): Alveolar macrophages and the diagnosis of drowning. In: Forensic Science International, Vol. 62, No. 3: pp. 217-224


In the present study, we examined the number of alveolar macrophages in lung tissue from 17 cases of fresh water drowning, 22 cases of acute death and 6 cases of lung emphysema. When counting only the number of alveolar macrophages per alveolus without consideration of the alveolar size we found no relevant differences between the groups investigated. To exclude any influence of the alveolar size on the results the surface density of the alveolar macrophages and interstitial tissue was estimated and compared in the different groups. In cases of drowning, the lungs showed significantly lower values in both categories. The ratio of ‘alveolar macrophages/interstitial tissue’ was also reduced in cases of drowning in comparison to the other groups, however, without significant differences. These morphometrical results characterizing the ‘emphysema aquosum’ with almost ‘empty’ and dilated alveoli could be explained by a wash-out effect of the drowning fluid leading to a partial removal of the macrophages from the alveoli. This hypothesis was confirmed by the detection of alveolar macrophages in the drowning froth by immunohistochemical analysis. Even though alveolar macrophages were unambiguously identified in advanced putrefied lungs in HE-stained sections as well as by immunohistochemical staining, an estimation of the number of these cells cannot provide further information for the diagnosis of drowning in putrefied corpses due to the autolytic destruction of the lung architecture providing no reliable values.