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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2000 Jul;124(7):1080-2.

Identification of female cells in postcoital penile swabs using fluorescence in situ hybridization.

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Medical University of South Carolina, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Forensic Section, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Traditionally, the finding of semen, that is, spermatozoa and acid phosphatase, in cervicovaginal specimens has been considered the laboratory evidence needed to prove recent sexual contact. Recent research with fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) has shown that in the absence of semen, male epithelial and inflammatory cells can be found within the female genital tract. A striking paucity of literature exists pertaining to the examination of the penis of an alleged assailant for potential evidence indicative of sexual assault. The current study uses FISH to analyzepostcoital swabs of the penis for such laboratory evidence. A male and female volunteer couple consented to participate in this study. Following coitus, the male partner presented to one of the investigators for penile swabbing. Swabs were taken at varying postcoital intervals (1-24 hours) subsequent to 10 coital episodes. The male participant was instructed not to shower following coitus, but to otherwise go about daily activities until specimen collection. To obtain each sample, 4 sterile cotton-tipped applicators were slightly moistened in sterile saline and swabbed along the length of the penile shaft and around the base of the penis. From the swabs, 3 air-dried slides were prepared, coded, and blinded. As controls, swabs were taken from the buccal surfaces of both volunteers. Multicolor FISH was performed using dual X- and Y-chromosome probes, and slides were counterstained with 4'-6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). Cells were easily visualized under a fluorescent microscope, but only cells with 2 nonoverlapping fluorescent signals were counted. Fluorescence in situ hybridization is highly sensitive and specific, and the dual probes easily distinguished between male and female cells. Female cells were identified on smears from every penile swab over the entire 1- to 24-hour postcoital interval. The FISH technique, previously successful in identifying male cells within the female genital tract, may also be employed on penile swabs. Once the presence of female cells is confirmed by FISH, the identity of the female can be confirmed by DNA analysis. Potentially, with such current molecular analyses, both the assailant and the victim can be positively identified.

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