Cytochemical techniques for zinc and heavy metals localization in nerve cells

Microsc Res Tech. 2002 Mar 1;56(5):318-31. doi: 10.1002/jemt.10037.


Zinc is one of the most abundant oligoelements in the living cell. It appears tightly bound to metallothioneins, loosely bound to some metalloproteins and nucleic acids, or even as free ion. Small amounts of zinc ions (in the nanomolar range) regulate a plentitude of enzymatic proteins, receptors, and transcription factors; thus, cells need accurate homeostasis of zinc ions. Some neurons have developed mechanisms to accumulate zinc in specific membrane compartments ("vesicular zinc") which can be revealed using histochemical techniques. This article is a short report on the different direct-indirect experimental approaches for zinc and heavy metal detection in neurons. Substances giving a bright color or emitting fluorescence when in contact with divalent metal ions are currently used to detect them inside cells; their use leads to the so called "direct" methods. The fixation and precipitation of metal ions as insoluble salt precipitates, their maintenance along the histological process, and their demonstration after autometallographic development are essential steps for other methods, the so-called "indirect methods" (Timm and Danscher Neo-Timm methods).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Histocytochemistry / methods*
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Zinc