The pros and cons of the use of post-mortem human brain tissue in alcohol research – Experiences from the NSW Brain Tissue Resource Centre

Sandra Helinski

Kril JJ1, Sheedy D1, McCrossin T1, Smith C1, Van Roijen M1, Heblinski M1, Dennis C1, McCorkindale A1, Papp-Peka A1, Sutherland GT1.


1NSW Brain Tissue Resource Centre, Discipline of Pathology, Sydney Medical School, Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney, Sydney NSW 2006, Australia


The NSW Brain Tissue Resource Centre (NSW BTRC) collects, characterises and distributes CNS tissue for alcohol-related research to investigators worldwide. It also assists researchers to design projects that best capitalise on this unique resource. Central to achieving meaningful results is the provision of high quality tissues that have been carefully characterised and are accompanied by detailed clinical and demographic data. While prospective donor programs provide the best opportunity for collecting demographic information, medical history, lifestyle factors and family history, the majority of donors are characterised retrospectively which can limit the nature and extent of the information available. The establishment of matched cohorts of cases and controls can, in part, ameliorate these deficits.

We have demonstrated that tissue from the resource can be used successfully with a broad array of methodologies including light, electron and confocal microscopy, immunohistochemistry, proteomics and genomics. However, intrinsic and extrinsic features of the tissue influence the application of these techniques. Careful attention to collection and storage protocols and a comprehensive neuropathological examination to exclude co-existing pathologies and confirm diagnoses are crucial. The influence of agonal factors can be reduced by donor selection, however inherent differences between donors with different diagnoses do exist. An understanding of the role of agonal factors in determining tissue integrity, and their influence on the techniques to be employed, is important to maximise research outcomes.

The NSW BTRC and similar resources that provide human postmortem tissue can advance our understanding of the effects of alcohol misuse on the brain and the neural pathways that underlie addiction.