Silver diagnosis in neuropathology: principles, practice and revised interpretation

Acta Neuropathol. 2007 May;113(5):483-99. doi: 10.1007/s00401-007-0200-2. Epub 2007 Mar 31.


Silver-staining methods are helpful for histological identification of pathological deposits. In spite of some ambiguities regarding their mechanism and interpretation, they are widely used for histopathological diagnosis. In this review, four major silver-staining methods, modified Bielschowsky, Bodian, Gallyas (GAL) and Campbell-Switzer (CS) methods, are outlined with respect to their principles, basic protocols and interpretations, thereby providing neuropathologists, technicians and neuroscientists with a common basis for comparing findings and identifying the issues that still need to be clarified. Some consider "argyrophilia" to be a homogeneous phenomenon irrespective of the lesion and the method. Thus, they seek to explain the differences among the methods by pointing to their different sensitivities in detecting lesions (quantitative difference). Comparative studies, however, have demonstrated that argyrophilia is heterogeneous and dependent not only on the method but also on the lesion (qualitative difference). Each staining method has its own lesion-dependent specificity and, within this specificity, its own sensitivity. This "method- and lesion-dependent" nature of argyrophilia enables operational sorting of disease-specific lesions based on their silver-staining profiles, which may potentially represent some disease-specific aspects. Furthermore, comparisons between immunohistochemical and biochemical data have revealed an empirical correlation between GAL+/CS-deposits and 4-repeat (4R) tau (corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy and argyrophilic grains) and its complementary reversal between GAL-/CS+deposits and 3-repeat (3R) tau (Pick bodies). Deposits containing both 3R and 4R tau (neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer type) are GAL+/CS+. Although no molecular explanations, other than these empiric correlations, are currently available, these distinctive features, especially when combined with immunohistochemistry, are useful because silver-staining methods and immunoreactions are complementary to each other.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Silver Staining / history
  • Silver Staining / methods*