Effects of fixative and embedding medium on morphology and immunostaining of the cochlea

Audiol Neurootol. 2009;14(2):78-87. doi: 10.1159/000158536. Epub 2008 Oct 1.


The localization of proteins by immunostaining is a powerful method to investigate otologic disorders. However, the use of fixatives and embedding media (necessary for the preservation of morphology) can obscure antigens, making it difficult to perform immunoassays. We performed a systematic investigation of the effects of fixative and embedding medium on morphology and immunostaining of the mouse cochlea. Three different fixative solutions [4% formaldehyde (F), 4% formaldehyde + 1% acetic acid (FA), and 4% formaldehyde + 1% acetic acid + 0.1% glutaraldehyde (FGA)] and 3 different embedding media (paraffin, polyester wax, and celloidin) were used. Morphology was assessed using light microscopy. Immunostaining was studied using a panel of 6 antibodies (to prostaglandin D synthase, aquaporin 1, connective tissue growth factor, 200-kDa neurofilament, tubulin and Na(+),K(+)-ATPase). Preservation of morphology was suboptimal with paraffin, adequate with polyester wax and superb with celloidin. Immunostaining was successful using all 6 antibodies in all 3 fixatives and all 3 embedding media. While there were differences in strength of signal and localization of antigen between the 3 fixatives, overall, FA and FGA gave the most uniform results. For a given fixative and antibody, there was surprisingly little difference in the quality of immunostaining between celloidin and paraffin, while results in polyester wax were not as good in some cases. These results suggest that celloidin may be the embedding medium of choice for both morphological and pathological studies, including immunostaining when morphology must be optimized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cochlea / cytology*
  • Cochlea / metabolism
  • Collodion
  • Fixatives*
  • Formaldehyde*
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Paraffin Embedding*
  • Polyesters
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Temporal Bone / cytology
  • Temporal Bone / metabolism
  • Waxes


  • Fixatives
  • Polyesters
  • Proteins
  • Waxes
  • Formaldehyde
  • Collodion