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Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2001 Sep;22(3):228-32.

Persistence of spermatozoa and prostatic acid phosphatase in specimens from deceased individuals during varied postmortem intervals.

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


The survival of spermatozoa and the persistence of prostatic acid phosphatase has been an area of interest for investigators of sexual assault. However, not much documentation exists concerning the examination of a deceased individual with regard to the postmortem interval and presence of such evidence. The authors reviewed cases referred to the medical examiner's office during a 10-year period. During this time, 199 cases were both autopsied and examined for sexual assault. In particular, these examinations included procurement of swabs for Papanicolaou staining of smears and for quantitation of prostatic acid phosphatase. Most of the victims were female, although a few were male. In the majority of cases, the swabs for smears and prostatic acid phosphatase were taken from oral, vaginal, and anorectal areas in females and oral and anorectal areas in males. The smears all were stained with the routine Papanicolaou stain, and intact spermatozoa and spermatozoan heads were sought. The prostatic acid phosphatase was analyzed by the microparticle enzyme immunoassay method and reported as ng/ml. A level of greater than 100 ng/ml was considered positive. The cases were analyzed with respect to postmortem interval; presence or absence of intact spermatozoa or spermatozoan heads; presence of an elevated prostatic acid phosphatase; body location of the specimen; the time of year; location of the victim; and physical injury (anogenital) of sexual assault. The authors hope that by examining the laboratory evidence of sexual assault, a correlation can be drawn between the presence or absence of such evidence and the aforementioned variables.

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