Quantitative protein analysis from formalin-fixed tissues: implications for translational clinical research and nanoscale molecular diagnosis

J Pathol. 2007 Feb;211(3):370-8. doi: 10.1002/path.2107.


Owing to its cross-linking effects, it is currently believed that formalin fixation of routinely processed tissues in the clinic prevents protein extraction and profiling. The aim of our study was to develop a robust, fast, standardized, and easy to use technique for the solubilization of non-degraded, full length, and immunoreactive proteins from formalin-fixed tissues for western blot and protein microarray analysis. Sections of routinely processed formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissues of various origin were analysed. After deparaffination, tissues were manually dissected from the slides and transferred into an optimized protein extraction buffer system. Proteins were solubilized and subsequently analysed by western blot and reverse phase protein microarrays. We succeeded in isolating non-degraded, soluble, and immunoreactive proteins from routinely processed formalin-fixed tissues. We were able to detect membrane, cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins at the expected molecular weight. No differences were found in the protein yield and protein abundances between fresh frozen and formalin-fixed tissues. Using western blots and reverse phase protein microarrays, the receptor tyrosine kinase HER2, an important protein target for antibody based cancer treatment, was reliably measured in formalin-fixed breast cancer biopsy samples when compared with measurement by immunohistochemistry and fluorescence in situ hybridization; remarkably, immunohistochemically equivocal cases (score 2+) can be categorized according to HER2 protein abundance. Our new clinically orientated multiplexed protein measurement system may be generally applicable to determine the relative abundances of known disease-related proteins in small amounts of routinely processed formalin-fixed tissue samples for research and diagnosis. This technique may also be used to identify, characterize, and validate known and new protein markers in a variety of human diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Biopsy
  • Blotting, Western / methods
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Carcinoma / chemistry
  • Female
  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde
  • Freezing
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Nanomedicine
  • Neoplasm Proteins / analysis*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Protein Array Analysis / methods*
  • Proteomics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / analysis
  • Tissue Fixation


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Fixatives
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Formaldehyde
  • Receptor, ErbB-2