Nucleolar size indicates the rapidity of cell proliferation in cancer tissues

J Pathol. 2000 Jun;191(2):181-6. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(200006)191:2<181::AID-PATH607>3.0.CO;2-V.


In order to define the importance of the nucleolus in tumour pathology, the relationship between nucleolar size and function and tumour mass growth rate was studied in vivo. Ten established human cancer cell lines from colon carcinomas and neuroblastomas were inoculated subcutaneously in athymic mice and the doubling time (DT) of the xenograft tumour mass was calculated. The tumour DTs ranged from 3.2 to 15.7 days. Nucleolar size was evaluated in sections from formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tumour samples after silver staining for AgNOR proteins, using a specific image analysis system. The nucleolar area values were inversely related to the xenograft tumour mass DTs (r=-0.90; p<0.001). Nucleolar functional activity was also evaluated using rapid, intermediate, and slow growing tumours (one each). The values of RNA polymerase I activity measured in vitro were strongly related to the corresponding tumour DTs (r=-0. 99; p=0.03). The labelling indices (LIs) of three proliferation markers, MIB1, PCNA, and bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU), were also evaluated. As revealed by the MIB1 and PCNA LIs, almost all the cells of the xenograft tumours were cycling (86.6+/-5.6 SD and 95. 5+/-2.0 SD, respectively). Neither the MIB1, PCNA or BrdU LIs were related to the xenograft tumour mass DT, showing that the different growth rates of tumour xenografts were not due to different growth fractions, but were mainly related to different cell proliferation rates. The present data demonstrate that the size and function of the nucleolus are related to the cell proliferation rate of cancer tissue. Evaluation of nucleolar size after silver staining of AgNOR proteins represents a unique parameter for the histological assessment of rapidity of cell proliferation in tumour lesions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bromodeoxyuridine / analysis
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Division / physiology*
  • Cell Nucleolus / pathology*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen / analysis
  • RNA Polymerase I / analysis
  • Silver Staining
  • Time Factors
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen
  • RNA Polymerase I
  • Bromodeoxyuridine