How much is there really? Why stereology is essential in lung morphometry

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2007 Jan;102(1):459-67. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00808.2006. Epub 2006 Sep 14.


Quantitative data on lung structure are essential to set up structure-function models for assessing the functional performance of the lung or to make statistically valid comparisons in experimental morphology, physiology, or pathology. The methods of choice for microscopy-based lung morphometry are those of stereology, the science of quantitative characterization of irregular three-dimensional objects on the basis of measurements made on two-dimensional sections. From a practical perspective, stereology is an assumption-free set of methods of unbiased sampling with geometric probes, based on a solid mathematical foundation. Here, we discuss the pitfalls of lung morphometry and present solutions, from specimen preparation to the sampling scheme in multiple stages, for obtaining unbiased estimates of morphometric parameters such as volumes, surfaces, lengths, and numbers. This is demonstrated on various examples. Stereological methods are accurate, efficient, simple, and transparent; the precision of the estimates depends on the size and distribution of the sample. For obtaining quantitative data on lung structure at all microscopic levels, state-of-the-art stereology is the gold standard.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropometry
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Lung / anatomy & histology*
  • Lung / cytology
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Mathematics
  • Microscopy / methods
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / anatomy & histology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / pathology