Stereology: a method for analyzing images

Prog Neurobiol. 1991;37(5):433-74. doi: 10.1016/0301-0082(91)90009-p.


This review deals with notions of shape, sizes, numbers, densities and orientation in space, all basic concepts in stereology. With the initiation by Delesse in 1847, but mainly since the beginning of the XXth century, many stereological methods have been published allowing us to relate two-dimensional measurements easily obtainable on flat histological images with three-dimensional characteristics of the structure analysed. Looking at these methods, the neurobiologist, generally impermeable to concepts of sampling, statistical bias, efficiency, cost of effort and distribution-free, is discountenanced and continues old laboratory usages and customs. Furthermore, for the last ten years, the advent of a plethora of new powerful tools, considered as assumption-free and more efficient than the previous ones, increase the risk proportionately the disarray of the potential user. The purpose of this review is to present synthetically all traditional and actual aspects of stereology in order to guide the reader in the labyrinth of this speciality. The necessarily short exposition is compensated by many references to which the beginner or the initiated can refer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts
  • Mathematics*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurobiology / methods*