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J Comp Neurol. 2009 Jan 1;512(1):27-51. doi: 10.1002/cne.21906.

Postmortem changes in the neuroanatomical characteristics of the primate brain: hippocampal formation.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Unit of Physiology, University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland.


Comparative studies of the structural organization of the brain are fundamental to our understanding of human brain function. However, whereas brains of experimental animals are fixed by perfusion of a fixative through the vasculature, human or ape brains are fixed by immersion after varying postmortem intervals. Although differential treatments might affect the fundamental characteristics of the tissue, this question has not been evaluated empirically in primate brains. Monkey brains were either perfused or acquired after varying postmortem intervals before immersion-fixation in 4% paraformaldehyde. We found that the fixation method affected the neuroanatomical characteristics of the monkey hippocampal formation. Soma size was smaller in Nissl-stained, immersion-fixed tissue, although overall brain volume was larger as compared to perfusion-fixed tissue. Nonphosphorylated high-molecular-weight neurofilament immunoreactivity was lower in CA3 pyramidal neurons, dentate mossy cells, and the entorhinal cortex, whereas it was higher in the mossy fiber pathway in immersion-fixed tissue. Serotonin-immunoreactive fibers were well stained in perfused tissue but were undetectable in immersion-fixed tissue. Although regional immunoreactivity patterns for calcium-binding proteins were not affected, intracellular staining degraded with increasing postmortem intervals. Somatostatin-immunoreactive clusters of large axonal varicosities, previously reported only in humans, were observed in immersion-fixed monkey tissue. In addition, calretinin-immunoreactive multipolar neurons, previously observed only in rodents, were found in the rostral dentate gyrus in both perfused and immersion-fixed brains. In conclusion, comparative studies of the brain must evaluate the effects of fixation on the staining pattern of each marker in every structure of interest before drawing conclusions about species differences.

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