AIMS: To assess whether a quantitative analysis of myocardial contraction bands could aid the postmortem identification of early myocardial infarction, especially if used in conjunction with cardiac isoenzyme activities. METHODS: Sixty four coroner's necropsies were grouped by gross and histological findings into 26 cases of definite non-cardiac death, 12 cases of definite myocardial infarction and 26 cases in which there was occlusive coronary artery atheroma, but no demonstrable evidence of infarction. Using multiple sections of left ventricular myocardium stained with Heidenhain's iron haematoxylin, the number of myocardial cells containing contraction bands per unit area was quantified. The results were analysed statistically using logistic regression, and were then compared and combined with results from the statistical analysis of postmortem cardiac isoenzymes that had recently been undertaken on the same cases. RESULTS: The number of cells containing contraction bands per unit area was higher in cases of definite myocardial infarction compared with those of non-cardiac deaths. In addition, cases of occlusive coronary artery atheroma only could be identified, indicating the presence of early myocardial infarction. The accuracy of this identification could be improved by combining these results with the results from the statistical analysis of postmortem cardiac isoenzymes. CONCLUSION: The quantitative assessment of myocardial contraction band necrosis can provide useful additional information in cases of sudden death, where myocardial infarction is suspected but not identified on routine histological staining. The value of the information obtained is increased when used in conjunction with the postmortem measurement of cardiac isoenzyme activities.
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