Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 236–240 | Cite as

Fatal methemoglobinemia complicating alkaptonuria (ochronosis): a rare presentation

  • Amanda R. Freeman
  • Stephen M. WillsEmail author
Case Report


A 61-year-old female died in hospital with multiple organ failure 4 weeks following presentation with acute kidney injury, hemolytic anemia and methemoglobinemia. At autopsy, brown to black discoloration of cartilages was observed. Histology revealed brown pigmentation of the hyaline cartilage, with focal full-thickness erosion of the articular hyaline cartilage, characteristic of alkaptonuria (ochronosis). Although alkaptonuria is rarely fatal, this case illustrates a rare acute fatal complication. Accumulation of circulating homgentisic acid secondary to acute derangement of renal function is believed to have overwhelmed the endogenous antioxidant processes, resulting in hemolysis and methemoglobinemia, which were refractory to treatment. Small numbers of cases have previously been reported in the literature in patients known to suffer with the disease, all of which were preceded by acute kidney injury. Whilst the clinical diagnosis of alkaptonuria may be challenging, the autopsy findings of this rare condition are striking and this case illustrates the utility of the autopsy, albeit retrospectively, in arriving at a diagnosis. To our knowledge this is the first reported case where previously undiagnosed alkaptonuria has presented with methemoglobinemia.


Methemoglobinemia Alkaptonuria Ochronosis Autopsy 



We thank Miss Tasma How and the histopathology laboratory at Forensic Science SA for technical support, and Dr. Sui Yu, Mr. Kristian Brion and Mr. Tim Pyragius of SA Pathology for the genetic analysis.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors. Approval to report the case was given by Forensic Science SA, Adelaide, Australia.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SA PathologyAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Forensic Science SAAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.The University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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