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Pathology/histology: Common laboratory stains

Pathology/histology couple highly trained professionals with cutting-edge equipment that requires advanced training, an eye for detail and a steady hand. Which make and model of equipment is used depends on a mixture of operator preference and the nature of the task, for example if a frozen section is required, a cryostat will be used.

In histology, a wide number of different stains are typically used. The table below outlines some common laboratory stains used in histology.

Common laboratory stains used in histology

Stain Common use Nucleus Cytoplasms Red blood cell (RBC) Collagen fibers Specifically stains
Haematoxylin General staining when paired with eosin (i.e. H&E) Orange, Cyan Blue or Green Blue/Brown/Black N/A N/A Nucleic acids—blue
ER (endoplasmic reticulum)—blue
Eosin General staining when paired with haematoxylin (i.e. H&E) N/A Pink Orange/red Pink Elastic fibers—pink
Collagen fibers—pink
Reticular fibers—pink
Toluidine blue General staining Blue Blue Blue Blue Mast cells granules—purple
Masson’s trichrome stain Connective tissue Black Red/pink Red Blue/green Cartilage—blue/green
Muscle fibers—red
Mallory’s trichrome stain Connective tissue Red Pale red Orange Deep blue Keratin—orangeCartilage—blue
Bone matrix—deep blue
Muscle fibers—red
Weigert’s elastic stain Elastic fibers Blue/black N/A N/A N/A Elastic fibers—blue/black
Heidenhain’s AZAN trichrome stain Distinguishing cells from extracellular components Red/purple Pink Red Blue Muscle fibers—red
Bone matrix—blue
Silver stain Reticular fibers, nerve fibers, fungi N/A N/A N/A N/A Reticular fibers—brown/black
Nerve fibers—brown/black
Wright’s stain Blood cells Bluish/purple Bluish/gray Red/pink N/A Neutrophil granules—purple/pink
Eosinophil granules—bright red/orange
Basophil granules—deep purple/violet
Platelet granules—red/purple
Orcein stain Elastic fibres Deep blue N/A Bright red Pink Elastic fibres—dark brown
Mast cells granules—purple
Smooth muscle—light blue
Periodic acid-Schiff stain (PAS) Basement membrane, localizing carbohydrates Blue N/A N/A Pink Glycogen and other carbohydrates—magenta


Table sourced from Michael H. Ross; Wojciech Pawlina (2006). Histology: A Text and Atlas. Hagerstown, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, taken from here.

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