Use of agar in ophthalmic pathology: a technique to improve the handling and diagnosis of temporal artery biopsies, subfoveal membranes, lens capsules, and other ocular tissues

Ophthalmology. 1999 Nov;106(11):2106-8. doi: 10.1016/S0161-6420(99)90491-8.


Design: Prospective laboratory methodology study.

Purpose: Certain tissues, by virtue of their shape and extreme thinness or pliability, are difficult to position correctly during routine paraffin embedding to provide the optimal orientation for histopathologic studies. Biopsy specimens from temporal arteries must be sampled at different points along the length of the artery. Other tissues such as subfoveal neovascular membranes and fragments of lens capsule lack the thickness and rigidity to be positioned on edge to yield cross-sectional views. The authors' technique improves the orientation and thereby maximizes the histologic information obtained from such specimens.

Methods and materials: From January 1, 1990, to April 30, 1999, the authors studied 500 consecutive temporal artery biopsy specimens and 200 successive subfoveal neovascular membranes.

Results: Cutting a 20-mm cylindrical fragment of temporal artery at 1- to 1.5-mm intervals yielded approximately 13 to 20 cross-sections along the length of the artery. When the specimens were positioned together and embedded in agar, the pathologist could easily study multiple cross-sections of the artery. Additionally, using the agar technique, the authors were able to obtain cross-sections of other specimens submitted, such as subfoveal neovascular membranes, and studied each of the different layers to evaluate the disease process. By the same method, the authors placed small fragments of lens capsule with underlying cortex on edge and readily identified short, gram-positive coccobacilli consistent with Propionibacterium acnes endophthalmitis.

Conclusion: The agar technique can greatly improve the quality of diagnostic information gleaned from temporal artery biopsy specimens and other small tissue samples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agar*
  • Biopsy
  • Endophthalmitis / microbiology
  • Endophthalmitis / pathology
  • Epiretinal Membrane / pathology*
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / pathology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / pathology
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lens Capsule, Crystalline / pathology*
  • Ophthalmology / methods*
  • Pathology, Surgical / methods*
  • Propionibacterium acnes
  • Prospective Studies
  • Specimen Handling / methods
  • Temporal Arteries / pathology*


  • Agar