Facilities > Histopathology


Histopathology refers to the microscopic examination of tissue in order to study the manifestations of disease. Specifically, in clinical medicine, histopathology refers to the examination of a biopsy or surgical specimen by a pathologist, after the specimen has been processed and histological sections have been placed onto glass slides. In contrast, cytopathology examines free cells or tissue fragments.

Collection of tissues

Histopathological examination of tissues starts with surgery, biopsy, or autopsy. The tissue is removed from the body or plant, and then placed in a fixative which stabilizes the tissues to prevent decay. The most common fixative is formalin (10% formaldehyde in water).

Staining of the Processed Histology Slides

This can be done to slides processed by the chemical fixation or frozen section slides. To see the tissue under a microscope, the sections are stained with one or more pigments. The aim of staining is to reveal cellular components; counterstains are used to provide contrast.

The most commonly used stain in histopathology is a combination of hematoxylin and eosin (often abbreviated H&E). Hematoxylin is used to stain nuclei blue, while eosin stains cytoplasm and the extracellular connective tissue matrix pink. There are hundreds of various other techniques which have been used to selectively stain cells. Other compounds used to color tissue sections include safranin, Oil Red O, congo red, silver salts and artificial dyes. Histochemistry refers to the science of using chemical reactions between laboratory chemicals and components within tissue. A commonly performed histochemical technique is the Perls' Prussian blue reaction, used to demonstrate iron deposits in diseases like Hemochromatosis.

Recently, antibodies have been used to stain particular proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. Called immunohistochemistry, this technique has greatly increased the ability to specifically identify categories of cells under a microscope. Other advanced techniques include in situ hybridization to identify specific DNA or RNA molecules. These antibody staining methods often require the use of frozen section histology. Digital cameras are increasingly used to capture histopathological images.

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