Routine tissue staining
Haematoxylin and eosin (H & E) is the most commonly used stain in histology labs, representing the standard stain for most pathologists who diagnose disease, and for researchers who work with many tissue types. It highlights the detail in tissues and cells, using a haematoxylin dye to stain cell nuclei blue, and an eosin dye to stain other structures pink or red.
Although H&E is an essential everyday stain for many pathologists and researchers, sometimes a little extra help is required to reach a diagnosis, or further evaluate a tissue- usually to differentiate components that have already been seen in H&E-stained tissue sections, but need to be definitively identified.
Traditional special stains
This is where the so-called special stains come in handy. This term describes a large number of alternate staining techniques and histochemical procedures that are used in situations where H&E cannot provide all the information needed by a pathologist or researcher. These techniques use a variety of staining methods to more readily visualise components of a tissue using light microscopy. In principle, they work by taking advantage of intra- and extra-cellular chemical reactions between the tissue components and dyes. Typically they use a chemical or dye with an affinity for whatever is under investigation, enabling specific tissues, structures, or even microorganisms to be stained.
Lots of special stains
There are hundreds of special stains in use, each with their own unique properties, which can help evaluate certain cellular or tissue components, and even demonstrate the presence of pathogens. Although these stains play a very important role in histology, they are best used to confirm a suspected finding after evaluation of H&E-stained tissue sections, rather than being used in isolation to make a diagnosis.
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