Artifacts: Autolysis

The process of postmortem tissue decomposition is also called AUTOLYSIS ("auto"= self and "lysis"=breakdown). It is caused by a number of factors including ENZYME LEAKAGE, INSECT ACTIVITY and BACTERIAL ACTION.

As this process advances, colors change, tissue consistency shifts and normal shapes may become distorted by gas accumulation and decomposition. Later, parts may begin to slough (fall off), and scavengers such as gulls, vultures, foxes, coyotes or even humans may remove parts of the carcass. Over time these accumulating "false lesions", or ARTIFACTS will begin to obscure true LESIONS that provide clues to the actual cause of death. If not identified correctly, ARTIFACTS can hamper or worse, mislead an investigation into the cause of death. Thus, freshly dead animals provide the most accurate and detailed information for mortality event investigations.

Knowing how to determine the extent of postmortem autolysis is an important skill to acquire in trying to assess findings at necropsy or deciding whether to transport a carcass to the laboratory for full necropsy. Visit the Assessing Postmortem Condition section to learn how to properly score the decomposition state of a carcass and test yourself on your condition code scoring skills!


 Visit the gallery below to see examples of autolysis and the processes that can cause artifacts.  CLICK on an image to see an enlarged view.